In my distorted world, wine joins chess and the guitar in a small list of things I will never truly master. It’s not through lack of trying; I preserver with them all despite being gifted with fat fingers, a bloated liver, and distinct lack of intelligence. With the wine I am a member of a club, I read on the subject and I go to wine tastings. I can tell the difference between red crushed grapes and white crushed grapes (the colour), and I can often tell you a bit about the make-up if its printed clearly enough on the label. But that’s where it ends. Like chess and the guitar, there is always someone better; a master of their arts, willing to show-off a little with the panache of a flick of the hair or slight of hand. And I can only stand back and admire it all when that happens.
This tenuously leads me one hundred and fifty words in to Cheval Blanc, a wine bar that has my total admiration despite being less than two weeks old. For here is a place that takes wine seriously, with a impeccable list formed from around the world after a substantial holiday in France. Located next to its sister pub The Dark Horse, Cheval Blanc (French for White Horse; see what they’ve done? Clever clogs.) feels a different entity. The seating has upholstery thick enough to nestle in for the night, with thick wooden tables and exposed brick walls. The centre piece of the room is an inset spiral cellar, accentuated by lamp shades which dangle down at head height above it.
We try lots of wines with each one having the sort of character you would expect from a list hand picked by those who appreciate the craft. There is a house champagne full of sparkle and sweetness that would shame many a fine restaurant and a rose that begs to be enjoyed on a warm evening out on the terrace they share with The Dark Horse. A rather marvellous white from BLANKbottle comes with a great story and no grape information. Its a corker, all balanced marzipan and pear. We all love a classic style Beaujolais whilst a big red from South Africa is as elegent as it is punchy with blackberry and cherry. We go home and look the wine up. Good wine has this effect on me in the same way good food does.
And they do food. Of course they do, this is a restaurant blog after all. Small plates, mostly cold, designed to sit amongst the wine, are good enough to warrant a visit of its own. An accurately poached lobster tail sharpened by lemon acidity, a liver parfait of real depth and cured bits of venison are enjoyed almost as quickly as they are washed down. It’s all good stuff, I just wish I remembered to take photo’s. I will next time. Promise.
Bottles range from twenty quid up to a Cheval Blanc at £800.00, with glasses of wine and plates of food starting at a fiver and rising upwards. It all seems extremely fair given the experience and love which has gone in to the end product. It’s a place that I can see myself spending a lot of time and money in, admiring the real experts go to work and having a bloody great time doing so.