Part of the supposed appeal
of Shoreditch, where my office
is located, is the way in which
trendiness and down-to-earth
character (ie poverty) now sit
cheek by jowl. Sir TerenceConran's boutique hotel/restaurant Boundary is but yards from “gentlemen’s venue” The White Horse. The fashionable bar and restaurant Boho Mexica is flanked by a “market sundriesman” (ie wholesaler of tat for Petticoat Lane). And cheek by jowl with Hawksmoor, one of the best (and certainly not one of the cheapest) steak restaurants in London, we find Wine Bargains of Spitalfields (which, needless to say, does not have a website).
It’s a scruffy little place, painted a disheartening red, with the usual depressing combo of selling wine along with confectionery. I’m sure Mary Portas is a stranger to the retailing principle of picking up a Lion bar along with your claret. But from this unpromising welcome, I was heartened to see that social mobility is alive and rising on Commercial Street.
For on the shelves of Wine Bargains, I was shocked to find some top flight Burgundy at £96 a bottle. £96! I didn’t even know those little yellow stickers could be printed with prices like that. Why, why is a rundown offie selling wine like that? Perhaps Hawksmoor are doing Bring A Bottle nights? Perhaps Tracey, Gilbert and George need somewhere local to pop into for a serious red?
Sadly, I am not in the market for £96 wine. I am forced to the jowl, as it were, rather than the cheek. But while the Echezeaux is up there on the top shelf, down on the floor was a little basket of bargains, like street urchins beside the bankers.
On a Friday lunchtime, the basket was irresistible. Surely, if Wine Bargains knows about its wine – and sadly it knows enough not to flog first rate Burgundy at Echo Falls prices – then surely even their cheapest should be worth trying. A selection of Del Gaudio Italian wines at just £2.99 a bottle, or two for £5, and while the producer’s name did not resonate like the great negociants, this was something for the weekend sir, one red, one white and Bob’s your uncle. Or Roberto.
So on Friday evening, it was the Veneto Sauvignon. I was intrigued by the back label description, which said, somewhat surprisingly, that this was a wine “with an intense Aromas (sic) of bell pepper and tomato leaf”. In fact, it possessed very little flavour – of bell peppers, tomato leaves or indeed anything at all. The removal of the screw cap, like the opening of a jar of instant coffee, released completely misleading fragrances; once poured, this was a bland, flavourless and hardly noticeable wine. Son No 1 claimed he could have drunk the whole bottle in 15 minutes, but frankly, against a second-year undergraduate, that is hardly a sensible wager. I couldn’t wait until Sunday for the red.
No, I mean, I really couldn’t wait until Sunday for the red. A Sicilian Syrah, rich and spicy, seemed the ideal accompaniment for Cumberland sausages on Saturday night. And had this been a rich and spicy Syrah, all would have been well. But again, this wine too tasted of virtually nothing. Bland, flavourless and insubstantial, none of which I would have said applied to syrah, a cheap bottle of which will normally cut through your sinuses like Oil of Olbas.
But let’s not quibble, given the warmth of Sicily and the splendour of the Veneto, about whether either of these wines are “indicazione geografica tipica”, as the label says. After all, what would be typical of the geographical region of Shoreditch – the classy Echezeaux at £96, or the shallow Del Gaudio at two for a fiver? Lacking a further £93.50 per bottle to spend, I am loath to pass judgement.