Wine tasting on Lamb’s Conduit Street
‘Vines are not like other plants. They do best when you treat them mean. Poor soil makes the roots stretch and work, meaning the grapes have a more intense flavour.’
It’s wine club at Huckle the Barber in Bloomsbury and our sommelier, Josh Castle, is sharing his wisdom. The clippers have fallen silent, but our evening is just revving up.
‘Like a singer who’s had a hard life and puts their pain into their voice,’ suggests Marshal, manager of Huckle’s Lamb's Conduit Street shop, to much laughter. ‘I’d say this is a Nina Simone,’ he continues, taking a sip of a deliciously fruity red.
A lively discussion breaks out about musicians who make their own wine. Apparently Nicki Minaj’s MYX Fusions Moscato is pretty good. No one has tried Mick Hucknall's plonk, but his marketing team missed a shoo-in. Why his wine is not called Simply Red we’ll never know.
Every month, Huckle gathers a small group of clients and friends to explore a renowned wine region. The evenings are a collaboration with wine bar and restaurant, Noble Rot, and cheese paradise, La Fromagerie. This time it’s Beaujolais, and there are ten humans and one dog (teetotal) in attendance.
La Fromagerie first opened in Highbury almost 30 years ago. To our delight, founder Patricia Michelson opened her third shop spitting distance from Huckle in summer 2017.
Noble Rot was founded by Mark Andrew, a Master of Wine, and Dan Keeling, who used to work in the music industry. As an A&R man, and later managing director of Island Records, Dan signed acts including Coldplay and Lily Allen. Now he and Mark are responsible for putting great wine centre stage.
What’s the link between sommeliers and barbers?
Beaujolais, as Josh puts it, is ‘the rebellious little sibling of Burgundy’. North of Lyon and bordered by the rivers Saône and Azergues, the region has a long history of winemaking. The vineyards are almost entirely Gamay grapes, and produce mostly red wine. Traditional techniques are used to create wonderful, light-bodied and fragrant wines.
Josh, who has walked all of five metres to join us after his shift at Noble Rot, guides us with aplomb. His enthusiasm is infectious. He draws a parallel between the skills required by a sommelier and a barber.
‘A customer asks for a dry white wine. But what does ‘dry’ mean to them? It’s like when a client says to their barber, ‘I want it a bit shorter’. You have to translate the request using your understanding of the person. Sometimes you know them well. That’s easier. With new customers you have to use your instinct.’
As the third and fourth wines are opened the group relaxes into easy chatter. ‘How did you discover Huckle?’ is a common question. Turns out several of the guests became Huckle customers when their barber left another establishment to join our ranks. Men will go out of their way to see a great barber.
Make wine not warWe sipped our way through six different wines, handpicked by Josh:
- 2016 Jean Foillard, Morgon: Cote du Puy
- 2014 Chateau Thivin, Cote de Brouilly: La Chapelle
- 2016 Georges Duboef, Fleurie
- 2016 Jean-Louis Dutraive, Domaine de la Grand Cour, Fleurie: Cuvee Vieilles Vignes 'Tous Ensemble'
- 2016 Herve Souhart- Romaneaux Destezet, Ardeche
- 2016 David Chapel, Julienas: Cote de Bessay
The cheese was selected with the help of the staff at La Fromagerie. ‘I let them go wild,’ says Josh. We tried:
- Saint Marcellin: cow’s milk cheese from the Rhone Valley
- Abbaye de Taime: cow’s milk cheese from the Savoie region
- Reblochon: used in Tartiflette
- Fourne D’Ambert: blue cheese from Auvergne in central France
The world of wine has a reputation for stuffiness and snobbery. Thankfully, with the aid of establishments like Noble Rot, that’s changing. Our group is a diverse bunch. There are wine buffs who want to discuss the finer points of carbonic maceration (Josh is happy to oblige) and others who simply like drinking good wine.
Regardless of our respective levels of knowledge, we are all united by a love of having a good time. Before we know it, the clock is creeping past ten and guests begin to drift away. It is a school night after all. There are handshakes and cheery waves all round.
In these turbulent times there are so many things to get down about. Here at Huckle, we feel that when things get rocky it’s more important than ever to celebrate life.
As Dan Keeling puts it in the latest issue of the Noble Rot magazine:
‘Lunatics may have their fingers on the launch buttons, but we’re still revelling in food and wine’s ability to bring people together.’
We’ll drink to that.
Big thanks to Charlie Blightman, manager at Noble Rot, who helped us set up the Huckle wine club.