The new year is well and truly upon us and the festive season is over. We’re meant to be slowly shedding our thermals and woolies and looking forward to (a very distant seeming) Spring. However, January went on for an eternity and the weather is still biting, so we at Sated are continuing to indulge in more “winter-y” activities, namely holing up somewhere comfy, eating cheese and drinking wine. If that suggestion instantly made you let out a longing sigh and caused your shoulders to relax a touch, we have the perfect spot for you. Patron Cave à Manger is a Bar à Vin and restaurant in Kentish Town that will steal your heart and have you coming back for more. Sated was fortunate enough to attend one of their legendary wine tastings (complete with cheese and charcuterie), this time hosted by Maison Champy, the oldest wine merchant in Burgundy, located in Bern.
We get out of Kentish Town station and plough through an onslaught of rain, cursing the bus that drenches us in muddy gutter water as we make the straightforward eight-minute walk to Patron. It’s cold, dark and miserable out, and we certainly had trouble leaving the office to go North. However, all our weather-inflicted irascibility dissipates as soon as we reach the charming, maroon shopfront with its shining Art-Deco-inspired foil signage and large windows framing the cosy scene within.
We step inside and are given the warmest of welcomes as we de-layer and gaze around the tiny venue. A cheese and charcuterie counter sits to our right, where a smiling member of staff is preparing mouth-watering platters. A high table with a fondue pot and an astounding amount of cheese is positioned to our left by a long tasting table over which is depicted a map of France’s wine regions. The lighting is soft, the bare brickwork tactile and the ambience decidedly informal. Tonight, we are here for a truly special event, a wine tasting by Maison Champy – the oldest wine merchant in Burgundy.
Patron’s effervescent and unapologetically French Events Manager, Romain, introduces us to Maison Champy’s chief winemaker, Dimitri Bazas. Dimitri has been instrumental in the transformation of the house and his knowledge and charisma come through in every utterance and gesticulation (of which there are many).
We take our seat and Dimitri regales us with the history of Maison Champy, which got its start in 1720 when a Master Cooper had the brilliant idea of filling the barrels he was making with wine and selling them. Dimitri goes on to explain the classification of Burgundy and how grapes from the region are millions of years in the making, getting their character from uneven tectonic plate movement creating cross-sections of differing terroir, the positioning of the Bern between the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains, and the semi-Continental climate.
Whilst he is speaking, an eye-catching array of cheeses and meats is set before us, made up of Patron’s extensive wares including Tomme de Savoie, Fiore Sardo, Crotin de Chavignol, truffle Pecorino and gooey Camembert.
As our glasses are filled with the first red – Bourgogne Pinot Noir Signature 2015 – Dimitri states that all their wines are organic. The conversion process started in 2007 and took three years for the grapes themselves to be certified and until 2012 for the wine to meet the EU’s stringent organic regulations. Natalia Posadas-Dickson, Head Buyer at sippwine and Maison Champy’s UK importer tells us how this move was an important and inevitable one for Dimitri, who is a driving force for progress in the region.
We give our glasses a swirl and bury our noses into their openings. Not much greets them; dark cherries and red currants are noticeable but the vintage produces no real complexity. We take a sip and the taste buds on our tongue silently agree with their nasal-dwelling brethren. The taste is dry with some fruit lingering on the palate but no impressive takeaway. Dimitri explains that as there are only Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy for reds, the vintage is hugely important. He candidly says that this wine is too young and needs ageing but that he wanted us to try it first so that we can get a full picture of Maison Champy – they have nothing to hide.
Next up, is the Pommard 2014, which is much juicier right out of the gate. An intense aroma of blackcurrants is tempered by an oaky character, structure and chalky minerality. Blackberries and black cherries also make themselves known. These fruits come through on the palate but are aided by the cheese; the fat that coats our tongue opens the wine up, taking away the dryness so that we can get at the body and fruit more easily. Dimitri explains how 2014 was a difficult year as frost halved their production. This is the reason for the Pommard being darker in colour (lower yield means more extraction). With more structure, this shows potential but needs another three or four years before it is ready.
We take another step up to Nuits-Saint-Georges 2015 with its full aroma of wild berries and tough leather or mocha. The clay and limestone of the village’s vineyard and the distinct micro-climate that makes this region’s produce so diverse, creates a rich Pinot Noir that tingles on the tongue (although that could very probably be down to the blue cheese we’ve just had our way with). Whilst we feel that this is more rounded than the first two wines, it could still do with a bit more ageing.
Our final red is the Beaune 1er Cru Aux Cras 2015 from the South-East. Beautifully dark in colour, the nose surprises, with scents of violet and rose and lighter notes of yet-to-ripen blackberries. This is an elegant wine that is more robust and full than its predecessors whilst retaining fruitiness. A light saltiness comes through at the end with a hint of spice, culminating in an intriguing Pinot that can be drunk now or in 15 years’ time.
As the whites are poured, Romain posits charcuterie boards laden with goodies on our table. All are beautifully flavourful and served at the optimum temperature but the foie gras steals our heart and transports us back to a tiny rural village in the South of France. We never thought of pairing white wine with cured meats, but the dynamic is wonderfully agreeable.
First up is the Bourgogne Chardonnay Signature 2015. Fresh on the nose and creamier than expected, a citric ending leaves us with a slightly bitter but not at all unpleasant taste in our mouths.
The Puligny-Montrachet 2014 builds on our appreciation; tropical fruits, grapefruit and acasia flowers drift towards us whilst the liquid is round and full bodied in the mouth. Graceful and seductive after the initial bitterness has passed, this a good starter wine that will only improve over the next five years.
Whilst these first two Chardonnays are lovely easy drinkers, the next brings with it a whole new game. White-gold in colour, the Saint Aubin 1er Cru Les Murgers des Dents de Chien 2014, is simply glorious. Very complex in character, this beauty takes its time to unveil itself fully. The nose is refined and faint, with very subtle notes of orange blossom and distant minerality that we can only describe as the freshness of rock. Whilst light in concentration, the experience stays with us as the flavours linger and develop, working perfectly with the creamier cheeses and the foie gras.
We ready ourselves for our final tipple, the Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes 2015. Throughout our entire tasting, Dimitri has regaled us with in depth insight into the wines and vineyard all delivered with natural humour. The Patron staff have effortlessly provided a relaxed and open atmosphere and we feel a slight sadness that the night will soon be over. However, we are certainly leaving on a high with this white. Golden in appearance with aromas of peach, grilled hazelnuts, caramel and an underlying minerality, this is a stunning example of what Maison Champy and Burgundy have to offer. The initial taste is fresh, driving through to a buttery, brioche richness that persists, playing with the seemingly oxymoronic cleanliness of the mineral. This is a truly delightful Chardonnay that speaks to the prestige of the region.
Wines drunk and platters ransacked, it is time to head back out into the cold. As we look back, we smile at the warmly lit interior filled with merry faces. Patron is a true gem and we will certainly be back to the Cave à Manger, especially when rare tastings like these are only £25!
Patron Cave à Manger, 16 Fortress Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2EU
For more information about the venue and its events, visit their site here.