Filip Verheyden is TONG – About Wine

A provocative publication about the world of wine – tackling one issue at a time

Being a self-confessed wine geek, I am always curious to read new and interesting takes about both wine itself and the industry. I don’t exactly remember when or where I first heard about TONG – About Wine magazine, but it was likely on twitter, and once I read a little more about it, I was intrigued.

Now is the point when I would normally introduce you to the magazine, but I recently had the opportunity to interview the editor and publisher, Filip Verheyden, so I will let him do it instead – in 140 characters or less.

Filip Verheyden, Editor & Publisher of TONG Magazine

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LF: If you had to explain what TONG is on twitter – i.e. in 140 characters or less – what would you say?

FV: Looking to demystify wine. One central theme, each time different specialists, broad spectrum towards the subject and no advertising.

LF: How does it feel to have pioneered the first international wine magazine from Belgium, and does national culture play any role in the thinking behind TONG?

FV: No, absolutely not. Wine is one of the most international agricultural (and cultural) products in the world. That’s why I’m also in the Master of Wine program. Wine takes you everywhere in the world. For that reason, TONG is in English, and not in Flemish. That market [Flemish] is simply too small. I used the name “TONG”, which is Flemish for “tongue”, because most of the people in the wine industry are not in fact native English speakers, but they all speak it.

LF: What do you make of the current trends in wine writing and analysis, and do you think it is due to change any time soon? Have we become over-complicated in the way we talk about wine?

FV: No, we haven’t become over-complicated. I have very strong views on this. We live in the age of the Anti-Specialist. Due to blogs, social media, etc. everybody has become a “specialist”. When something is written down, it looks as if it has more power than the same thing being spoken out. That is why people feel more “special” when they distribute their writings. But writing down something does not make you a specialist.

That is the reason why TONG does not work with journalists – unless they are specialists in their fields of work. Specialists only write about their specialty, wine writers write to order…making them the antipode of a specialist.

LF: Other high-quality wine quarterlies, such as The World of Fine Wine, have many intellectual and academic articles, but at the same time, they still review and rate wines, and also carry advertising. This means that they have an obvious way to attract and retain (in their case, wealthy) consumers. Who is TONG aimed at, why would consumers be interested in reading it, and how can you reach them?

FV: That’s a very difficult question! I started TONG the completely other way around: starting from what product I wanted to make and, only after that, trying to define the reader group. TONG is a very difficult product, in that way that there are no concrete marketing channels for it. If you make a cheap brand of jeans, you know in what kind of magazines, television programs, etc. you have to market it. There are no clearly defined channels where we can market TONG. And this is confirmed by our very heterogeneous reader group: wine geeks (especially in the US and in Scandinavia), wine students, and winemakers (especially in the new world). To be honest, no wine magazine wants to write about TONG. In the end, that is a big compliment. I am still looking in what format/magazine/social media I can find a lot of our possible readers together. But so far, I have not found them.

LF: You originally come from the world of food – what sparked your self-evident passion for wine?

FV: I don’t know. In essence, I am a man of nature. I am also a beekeeper. For me, working with my bees is the same as drinking wine or preparing a wild salmon, first trying to find its identity, the structure of its flesh, and then use my skills to prepare a superb dish to do it justice. Everything where there’s an interplay between man and nature intrigues me. But not intellectually; it’s more a gut feeling.

Can you really taste the minerals from the vines’ soil in the final wine?

LF: What is it that makes wine more than fermented grapes and a means to intoxication?

FV: Like food, wine is great when it has a personality, when it talks to you. In fact, I believe in the old sacral identity of wine. It makes you more human and at the same time brings you closer to nature (although wine is not a living product!).

At the same time, wine also has a scientific identity and reality, and that is what TONG wants to focus on. Both ‘realities’ exist and can live perfectly next to each other. But in our ‘wine communication’ world, many people mix these two realities, and that is what TONG wants to react against. For example, the concepts of ‘minerality’ or ‘terroir’ are not based on scientific proof. When somebody says: “This wine is very mineral because it rained a lot during summer, so that the minerals in the soil were solved into the water and could be taken up more easily by the vines. It’s minerals you smell and taste!” – then he or she is telling bullshit. Minerals are not only present in wine in very small amounts (very much below their threshold levels), they actually don’t have a smell. The taste of a wine is developed during fermentation. The soil only has an indirect effect on the taste (via the ripeness level of the grapes).

LF: How much do the following factors contribute to a wine, and which are the most important: land, fruit, climate, people, and technology?

FV: All of them. Wine is very complex. There’s no perfect recipe. But it is very clear that wine is a highly commercial and technical product. Wines with deliberately (induced by actions of the winemaker) high levels of Brettanomyces f.e. are often seen by journalists and consumers as ‘terroir’ wines (maybe also because French wines have high levels). Brett gives more broadness to a wine, with more smoky and meaty aromas. It makes it more ‘unique’. But, in fact, it is considered (by present quality standards and the definition of wine styles) a fault in the wine, which is spoiled by bacteria – yeast in this case.

LF: What impact do you think ‘natural wine’ has had on the industry and how much will it influence the coming decades of wine-making?

FV: It will pass very quickly and, in the wine industry itself, people are laughing about it. Natural wines are made by lazy winemakers. In my view, SO2 [sulfur dioxide] is as important to wine as grapes are. These so-called ‘natural’ white wines all taste the same: oxidised and without any varietal character or freshness, while the ‘natural’ reds are all dominated by Brettanomyces.

I think this trend was very cleverly developed, though. At a time when people want their food to be ‘natural’ again, very clear and straightforward. But I do not believe these wines will survive. Also because of the trend of global warming and rising pH levels in wine, these ‘natural’ wines will be even more difficult to stabilise chemically and microbiologically.

Is natural wine just a fad, or here to stay? (Image: americanappelation.com)

LF: What other publications – wine-related or not – do you read and enjoy reading, and why?

FV: When I am not studying about wine, I like to read poetry, especially in my native language. I like the sound of my language and I love the power of words. I don’t read newspapers – a waste of time when you can watch the news. I also don’t read tasting notes. They’re only a show-off of the author, and after one day they are outdated.

I also like looking in beautifully made books, no matter what the subject is. They bring me ideas. Ideas for new projects always originate in my guts. Only after that I start thinking about them.

 

LF: Do you have plans for any other wine or food projects up your sleeves?

FV: Yes. Something completely opposite to TONG. But related to wine. I can only give you the title: “A Secret”…

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Having now read three of the issues that have been published so far, I have a few thoughts of my own.

  • I find it commendable and encouraging that a publication like TONG now exists – it provides real, practical knowledge about wine from the people who are best placed to talk about their given subject – and the motives of the publication couldn’t be more clear or transparent
  • I like the way it looks: the fonts and typesetting changes with each issue (and therefore each subject), as does the style of photography, which is always engaging and often quite beautiful
  • While I must admit that some of the knowledge goes over my head due to the fact that it can be very technical in nature, it encourages me to learn more so that I can (eventually) understand what is being said
  • Sometimes the ‘reality’ of what is being discussed is in direct opposition to trends and/or perceived collective wisdom in the industry, which is always refreshing…some acidity to balance to often over-extracted world of wine journalism

TONG Magazine is published quarterly. The current issue is #8 and its subject is oak.

A 1-year subscription costs €100, while a 2-year subscription is €175, plus shipping (which varies depending which country you live in). Back issues are available for €28 each, plus shipping.

*Note: I have no personal or commercial relationship with TONG Magazine or its publisher.*

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Recent Winings – The B Festival at Bibendum

b festival

Bibendum's "B Festival"

Bibendum Wine is just one of those cool companies. The kind of place that you wished you work for, but you don’t – at least in my case.

Luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to their offices a few times now over the past few months in order to sample their wines. Besides learning more about my favorite beverage, it has been a great way of meeting other food and wine people in the flesh, cementing relationships formed virtually through our increasingly ever ‘connected’ worlds.

Most recently, I attended their cleverly titled and well organized annual event called the ‘B Festival’. Rhyming with the well-known ‘V Festival’ music event, the wine tasting adopted a very musical theme as well. Spread over two days, and taking up most of the non-desk space in their offices, there was a ‘Main Stage’ of wines which included some of Bibendum’s most popular labels, including Bodega Catena Zapata, Petaluma and Castello Banfi (which I recently had the pleasure of visiting in person, and of which more soon in an upcoming post on Italy). In addition, there were two other ‘stages’ each day. When I was there, there was a ‘Rock Stage’, which was all about the world’s most exciting terroirs, and the ‘Alternative Stage’, which offered wines a little off the beaten track that could make good and fresh alternatives to classic wine styles/regions such as Sancerre, white Burgundy or Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I managed to taste most of the wines in the two specialist rooms, which were small and cozy, and was delighted by how far the music theme had been taken. For instance, in the ‘Rock Stage’ they had a Nirvana Unplugged music video playing on a flat screen TV…you get the picture (literally below).

The Rock Room, Complete with Cobain

The Rock Room, Complete with Cobain

Being somewhat of a novice, this was by far the most wines I had tasted in one go. I was literally like a kid in a candy shop as a number of wines that I’ve been reading about as of late (and dying to taste) were there for the drinking. I don’t know if it was my rookie taste buds, which may have been unaccustomed to so many different wines, but I think that after about the 20th wine I tasted, it became much more difficult to differentiate between wines that were even mildly similar. In any case, you can read a bit about some of the wines that stood out for me, and I have to say there were only one or two wines I didn’t like at all, which is quite a feat given the number I tasted.

Rock Stage

Top draw for me amongst the 12 wines on offer in this room were as follows, in ascending order of price:

  • 2007 Savennieres Clos de la Coulaine, Chateau Pierre-Bise (Loire, France), 100% Chenin Blanc
    • Notes: A beautiful nose of stone fruits, apricot and nectarine. This is classic Chenin. Refreshing, fruity and dry, with a good dose of minerals and a dense richness. £13.26/bottle.
  • 2005 Aglianico del Vulture, Gudarra Bisceglia (Basilicata, Italy), 100% Aglianico
    • Notes: Very nice rich and ripe red fruit and extremely well balanced. Good smooth texture in the mouth with some spiciness and pleasant, unobtrusive oak. £14.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mount Harlan, California), 100% Pinot Noir
    • Notes: Absolutely stunning. Smooth, rich, luscious, slightly tannic. Pure pinot fruit (red fruit, black cherry, orange peel) and some subtle spice. Good length and just the right amount of sweetness. Quite a long and soft finish. Could drink quite a few glasses of this! Unfortunately not that cheap at £29.65/bottle.
Rock Star: 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (£29.65/bottle)

Rock Star: 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (£29.65/bottle)

Alternative Stage

The ‘Alternative Stage’, Stacked with Stars

The ‘Alternative Stage’, Stacked with Stars

There were a lot of wines I really liked in this room, but again three or four stood out:

  • 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna, Superiore Terragens (Emilia-Romagna, Italy), 100% Sangiovese – Alternative to Chianti Classico
    • Notes: Exceedingly good value. Slightly sharp at first but then lovely roundness with strong red fruit (cherry) and jam. Some vanilla in there too, and a very full wine all in all. £6.00/bottle.
  • 2006 A to Z Pinot Noir (Oregon, USA), 100% Pinot Noir – Alternative to Red Burgundy
    • Notes: Wow, very nice, coats the mouth, round and smooth. A good dry finish which fades away slowly. Another glass please? My favorite so far. £15.26/bottle.
  • 2007 Glenguin Estate, Protos Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, Australia), 100% Chardonnay – Alternative to White Burgundy
    • Notes: Nice…extremely fruity with a bit of oak. Very fresh and very light in color. This wine is nutty, creamy and has a lot of depth. The best chardonnay from Australia I’ve tasted recently (along with Katnook Estate’s 2005 Chardonnay). This really is a lovely alternative to white Burgundy, but maybe not that much cheaper than some at £15.50/bottle.
  • 2005 Bodegas Catena Zapata, Nicolas Catena Zapata (Mendoza, Argentina), 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Malbec – Alternative to Icon Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Notes: Beautiful nose with lots of raspberry. A deep red, ruby color. Sweet, rich red fruit flavor (again, raspberry and some cherry) plus dark chocolate squares, with lots and lots of length. This is a bold and classy wine which is probably pretty age-worthy. A winner, but not cheap at £44.98/bottle!
A Tremendous Trio

A Tremendous Trio

Main Stage

There were a lot of wines I enjoyed from this wide assortment of 100 bottles. However, I’ve selected a few below which really floated my boat:

The Main Acts Take the Stage

The Main Acts Take the Stage

  • 2006 Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots, Domaine Laroche (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: Excellent, very strong and crisp chardonnay with well integrated soft oak in the background. Notes of mucky leaves and truffles as well. I love this wine. It is important to note that with Laroche the wines from the business’s own land say ‘Domaine Laroche’ (like this one), but that the labels on the wines from grapes brought from other growers simply say ‘Laroche’. £33.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Puligny-Montrachet  1er Cru La Garenne, Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: Absolutely beautiful, so fruity, so oaky, they run into each other. But this sweetness and ripeness is kept in check with a streak of zesty minerality. Not sure of the price as it was substituted for another similar wine from the same domaine which was retailing at £29.18/bottle.
  • 2003 Meursault, Domaine Matrot (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: One of my favorites for sure. Fruity, fat, oaky, crispy. Extremely good value at £18.63/bottle for this quality of wine.
  • 2006 Cote Rotie, Domaine Jamet (Rhone, France), 100% Syrah
    • Notes: Wonderful classic Cote Rotie, with deep blackberry married with the hallmark burnt/roasty taste. Could probably age well, but that said, it is very drinkable now. £46.75/bottle.
  • 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi (Tuscany, Italy), 100% Sangiovese
    • Notes: Very deep red color. Red and black fruits on the nose (blackberry, cherry, raspberry). Full body, with a hint of spice, something mushroomy and a lot of chew and length. I actually tried this wine at Castello Banfi’s Taverna restaurant a few weeks ago and liked it even better. 2004 was a particularly good year for this wine in my view. £24.92/bottle.
  • 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio Alle Mura, Catello Banfi (Tuscany, Italy), 100% Sangiovese
    • Notes: This was even better and more complex than the ‘normal’ Brunello from Banfi. A bit dryer in the mouth, extremely tannic. Lots of rich red fruit and note of cigar or tobacco and some spice. This is a food wine, but still interesting on its own. A bit more dear at £34.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Catena Zapata, Malbec Argentino (Mendoza, Argentina), 100% Malbec
    • Notes: Out of all of the Catenas on hand, this was my favorite. Other nice ones were the 2007 Catena Malbec (much cheaper at £10.84/bottle and good value) and the 2004 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon (£23.68/bottle). This wine was very complex and concentrated and had a nice balance and lingering freshness to it. You will have to fork out £36.50/bottle for the privilege though.

Great Values

I was lucky enough to get a peep into the ‘Media Tent’ to taste some of the more affordable wines that will be more readily available to the public in supermarkets and national wine store chains. At this point, my palate was a bit the worse for wear, but there were a couple of really good values which stood out for me:

  • 2008 Bouchard Chablis (available at Sainsbury’s) at £9.99/bottle
    • Notes: A very pleasant and quaffable Chablis but not a knock-out. Fresh, citrusy, flinty. Very good value for the price point.
  • 2006 Petaluma Chardonnay (available at Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Majestic) at £14.99
    • Notes: Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. Nice strong fruit with some apples and peach, and then a good oaky finish. Very round and luscious wine and I think it’s not bad value for the price.
  • 2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn (available at First Quench) at £9.99
    • Notes: Extremely floral nose, sweet and with good acidity. Lots of interesting fruits in the mouth (pear, tropicals) and a very long dry apricot finish. A very good value indeed.
2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn at £9.99

2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn at £9.99

Last up was a very nice Vinsanto, which I thought represented really good value for the money. Very tangy and lots of sweet (candied?) almonds. You can see a picture of it below.

Sticky Ending: 2003 Vinsanto del Chianti Rufina, Fattoria Di Basciano, good value at £11.99 per 375ml bottle

A Sticky Ending: 2003 Vinsanto del Chianti Rufina, Fattoria Di Basciano, good value at £11.99 per 375ml bottle

Well, not much else to say except a big thank you to Bibendum and happy drinking to you all out there.

Offer on Chateau Bauduc / Ramsay’s Selection

The 10% discount on a £49.95 case of Ramsay Selection Six is good value

The 10% discount on a £49.95 case of Ramsay Selection Six is good value

There is a good deal on until the 22nd of June on Gordon Ramsay’s selection of Chateau Bauduc wines, for those living in the UK.  Bauduc have provided the house white wine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for ten consecutive vintages.

The Ramsay Selection Six is good value at £49.95, plus a 10% discount through the offer.  It includes: 2 Bordeaux Blanc (the house wine at RGR), 2 Les Trois Hectares Blanc 2006 (a Decanter World Wine Awards winner) and 2 Clos des Quinze 2006 (a medium-bodied red blend).  It comes to a total of £51.70 when including the delivery charge and discount.

You can have a look here for the other wines and offers available in this range.

2008 Chateau Monty Released!

The new (2nd) vintage of Monty's red and white is out - get it while you can!

The new (2nd) vintage of Monty's red and white is out - get it while you can!

Hey, for those of you who saw the Channel 4 program called Chateau Monty last year (which I thought was great) and were unsuccessful in obtaining any of his inaugural 2007 vintage (they apparently sold out less than a day after the program finished on TV), the 2008s have recently been released and are currently available online at Adnams.  I never got to try the 2007 and have just ordered a few bottles of the 2008 to see what they taste like.

There is Monty’s Red, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes at £8.99 a bottle and Monty’s Maccabeu, Dry White Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes.  You can also buy a case of 12, with 6 of the red and 6 of the white for £99 and free delivery.

I really hope this year is a good one for Monty.  He has big balls, passion and a great attitude towards this project, which should hopefully lead to long-term success.

The Kensington Wine Rooms – A Wonderful Addition to the London Food & Wine Scene

The Kensington Wine Rooms
127 – 129 Kensington Church Street
London W8 7LP
Website
Map

They have both a weekend brunch menu & an  à la carte menu

A wonderful new place on Kensington Church Street

A wonderful new place on Kensington Church Street

The Background

I had the sneaking suspicion before I ever entered The Kensington Wine Rooms (TKWR) that I was going to love (not just like) this place.  Opened about 7 weeks ago, it is one of the only places in London to have Enomatic wine dispensing machines.  These clever devices keep bottles of wine at the perfect temperature and serve the wine in three sizes – a taste (a half-shot), a small glass or a large glass.  The food has been rumored to be pretty good too.  So, needless to say, the ‘bar’ was set pretty high in terms of expectations.

The Venue

In order to celebrate moving into a new flat (completed on Saturday) and my belated birthday, we had called ahead to book a table for 2 for lunchtime on Sunday.  This turned out to be unnecessary as the place was fairly empty when we got there.  Our smiling French waiter promptly greeted and seated us at our table, which was in the bar area (the front half of the place) and which had a card with our name and the time of the booking clearly displayed on it.

The interior design of the place is very pleasant overall.  There is a definite but subtle wine theme running throughout, with the upholstered bench seating across the walls in the bar area being decorated in a burgundy colour with an abstract circular pattern that has clear wine bottle connotations.  There is also a lovely circular table which can seat about 6-8 people in the bar area, which echoes of wine.  In addition to a number of smaller tables in the bar area, there are also some skinnier raised rectangular tables with comfortable stools (that have lower back support!).  The rest of the bar area is mostly modern dark wood, and the smallish bar also displays some impressive hanging cured meats, chili peppers and other assorted foodstuffs (a good sign of things to come).  I say ‘small’ bar, because the sleek stainless steel Enomatic machines take up a lot of the wall space, and these are the primary focus when you walk in.  My only aesthetic complaint in the bar area is that the inside of the facade’s wall is painted in too crisp a white and doesn’t really blend with the dark wood and burgundy fabrics.

The rear part of the venue is pleasant, bright and surprisingly big.  It is arranged in various different table sizes, and there is a very nice exposed brick wall covering the entire back wall of the restaurant.  This is where you can have more of a proper sit-down meal should you want to.  It still retains a very nice casual air, which is consistent with the overall nice-but-not-stuffy atmosphere of the place.

The Food & Drink

The menu on offer at the time we dined was a ‘Weekend Brunch Menu’.  It had a small but nice selection of options, from some small plates (assorted charcuterie amongst others), to a few traditional brunch options (various iterations of eggs Benedict) to more traditional European lunch fare with a bit of flare (bavette and fillet cuts of steak, a few salads, etc). All of the dishes on the menu have a suggested wine pairing beneath (with the price of a small and large glass clearly displayed).  I was informed that during the week, they have mostly utilize a small plate menu, and that for lunch there is a 2-course (£12.50) and 3-course- (£14.50) deal.

I settled on the tempura-style fish and chips, accompanied by minted mushy peas, while my wife opted for the spinach and goats cheese salad.  We both had the suggested wine pairings, mine being a blend of Verdelho and Albarino from Spain, and my wife’s being an Australian Sauvignon Blanc.  After ordering, the manager came over to us and explained that in addition to the table service, you can purchase a card (which can be topped up with any amount of money you want), which you can then use to serve yourself from the Enomatic wine machines.  This means that you can get up whenever you want and select a taste or a glass of whatever wine you and your fellow diners fancy – that’s cool in my book.

While we were waiting for our food and wine to arrive, we walked around and had a closer look at the machines, which digitally display the price of a tasting portion of each wine in red.  The staff have also written up short tasting notes for each wine beneath the bottle, along with the price of a small and large glass.

Our food arrived relatively quickly, and looked very nice.  The main part of my dish (the fish) was served in 2 long and skinny tubes of light tempura batter, and was very fresh and tasty.  It was accompanied by hand-cut chips (which still had the skins on), which were perfectly crispy, hot and well salted (not too much, not too little).  The small dish of mushy peas was accented nicely by the mint and had a good, thick texture (slightly sinewy, maybe by virtue of the mint leaves and/or the pea shoots being blended in).  The other accompaniment was a homemade tartar sauce, which is one of the best I’ve tasted – with the richness being perfectly balanced by the right level of sharp acidity.  I started dipping my fries in the tartar sauce instead of the ketchup I had poured after a while.  The wine went down a treat with the fish – but then again Albarino and fish are meant to go hand in hand :).  It was very crip, dry and light – and had some length – so was a nice complement to the dish.  All in all, a very good combo.

My wife’s salad was also very good – and let me tell you, she is very picky with her salads as she is French and makes some very mean salads and vinaigrettes herself.  The goats cheese itself was excellent, and the freshness and flavor of the spinach and other greens was impressive, especially given the fact that we were eating on a Sunday (which often means a lack of fresh ingredients in the kitchen).  She couldn’t fault the vinaigrette which, as I said before, is saying something.  Her accompanying wine was surprisingly good for the price.  It was very complex for an Aussie Sauvignon (more Pouilly-Fume) and had a nice hint of passion fruit on the nose, with an underlying minerality on the palate and a lingering length.

Instead of going for one of the deserts (the baked chocolate mousse with black pepper ice cream paired with a sweet French Grenache sounded good), we opted for the English cheese plate.  The manager kindly gave us a selection of all 4 cheeses (from Neal’s Yard Dairy) on offer in a 1-person portion, which we shared.  There was a Stilton (very strong but very good), a camembert-type soft cheese (my favorite), a mature cheddar, and a youngish goats cheese (also excellent).  They were matched with a sweet Australian Muscat, which really stole the show.  The wine was perfectly chilled and was divine.  Lots of raisin on the nose; fresh Seville orange and burnt caramel on the palate…it was perfect with the cheese and would be very good on its own.

The Verdict

As you can probably already tell, I really liked TKWR.  The concept/format is fairly new to London, and I really hope it becomes a success.  The owner of TKWR, Thor Gudmundsson, has set up a successful chain of pubs in France (that takes balls!), so hopefully this UK venture will follow a similar path.  It provides a great alternative to the pub, and the fact that you can walk in and try a Chateau Margaux for £12.73 (granted, that’s only for a taste, not a glass!) is pretty cool.

TKWR’s atmosphere is nice but casual, which I like – it was pretty empty when we were there so it would be good to see it on a weekday evening, when I imagine it would have a nice buzz.  The staff are helpful, informative and friendly (but not too friendly).  The food – from the small sampling we had – is top-notch (which you don’t necessarily expect from a ‘wine bar’, with the other notable exception being Terroirs) and is also fairly priced, with most starters around or under £5 and most mains around or under £10 (except for the steaks).  The wine is also priced well, and I like the fact that the place also functions as a retail shop and that you can buy any of the wines at non-restaurant retail price and take them away (there is a separate retail shop price list for the wines, which on average are slightly less than half of the in-restaurant price).

My only beefs would be (and I am clutching here) that (1) they should offer a broader selection of new world wines as Western Europe, Chile and Australia seem to dominate (2) for me, the menu was a tad too short – I would consider adding 2 more dishes, and (3) there is only one of them and it is not quite within walking distance of my flat!

Rating

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 7/10

Wine: 9/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only been to TKWR once, only tried a small selection of food, and the restaurant was nearly empty when I dined there.*

The Kensington Wine Rooms on Urbanspoon

(Japanese) Perfectionism Meets (Kiwi) Pragmatism

Sorting the grapes 
Sorting the grapes

 There was an interesting article in the FT this weekend from Jancis Robinson about Hiro Kusuda, a Japanese man and fomer diplomat, who decided to become a winemaker and re-located to New Zealand.

He really seems like a testament to having a passion, a vision and following through on it no matter what.  His company is called Kusada Wines.

If you subscribe to the FT, you can read the article here.  If not, you can view the full article for free on her website here.