16 May 2019

Real Wine Month at Joseph Benjamin


May marks Real Wine Month. Here, Ben talks about some of the challenges of maintaining the restaurant wine list.

At JB we take pride in putting together a great wine list. My priority when wine-buying is finding interesting bottles that offer brilliant value to our guests. Simple right?

Well no, it’s not as straight forward as it might seem.

Aside from the fact that creating a wine list is seriously expensive (think of all that cash tied-up in stock) and logistically demanding (if only we knew what you’d want to drink with your lunch in advance), an interesting challenge for me lies in striking a balance between new, exciting ideas and good examples of the classics.

It’s a bit like planning a food menu. We get that some days all you want is a fine Caesar salad whereas at other times you’re feeling more adventurous – octopus with chorizo, a spicy Asian salad or something satisfyingly messy like grilled sardines hits the spot. The same applies to wine; sometimes a wacky, on-trend natural wine from Georgia is just the ticket but equally a chilled Sauvignon Blanc or a simple glass of reliable house red might be precisely what you’re after. It does what it says on the bottle and that’s just great. I don’t think it’s up to a restaurant like ours to dictate which of these moods you should be in.

The objective is therefore a wine list with an even spread of styles and prices, all offering great value for money. I conduct tastings with suppliers most weeks and go to three or four wine fairs each year to keep up to date. On top of this, I’m lucky enough to wangle the occasional trip abroad to see the whole operation first hand at the winery.

Whether a wine is modern, quirky and esoteric however, or more traditional, an absolute top priority of mine is to favour smaller producers who care deeply for the vineyards and are not purely commercial enterprises.

So, to Real Wine Month. Lead by the organisers of the Real Wine Fair, an annual event held in London, this initiative is a celebration of the labour, craft and skill of small, independent vine growers from around the world. ‘Real Wine’ sounds like a strange phrase, but it makes sense when you think of it like food. We know what we mean by real food vs junk food. And this is basically the same. I think wine, like food, is infinitely better when created naturally, without chemicals and without massive commercial and scientific meddling. Sunny fields and good soil make for tastier food and drink than petri-dishes, fertilizers and poly-tunnels (and you’d be shocked by how many chemicals are added to your average supermarket bottle of plonk). In the wine world, this ethos is known as ‘low intervention’ – letting nature take the lead and not messing about with the wine.

To acknowledge this principle, throughout Real Wine Month we’ll be shining a spotlight on some of the wines on our list that fit most clearly into this bracket. Some have flavours you may not have experienced before whereas others will be more familiar – but all have great stories behind them and freshness and vitality in abundance.

We’ll be pouring something different each day; so pop in or keep an eye on our social media accounts to see what’s on offer.