Carole Bryon grew up between Paris and Normandy, and the influences of both are evident in the former ad agency art director’s new venture, Lady of the Grapes – an intimate 30-cover wine bar in London’s Maiden Lane, which brings the charms of prewar Montparnasse and the Pays d’Auge to Covent Garden. After wine studies in London and stints at Terroirs and Grocery Wine Vault, Bryon decided to set out on her own, aiming to highlight the more esoteric, artisan wines she most enjoys, with a special emphasis on female winemakers.
Arriving, I perched at the cosy counter with Bryon, and enjoyed fried oysters with spinach, beurre blanc and almonds and a glass of Castell d’Age “Aurèlia” Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva (£9 by the glass). Winemaker Olga Betrian and owner Olivia Junyent are pushing boundaries with this dryly rich yet juicy fizz with a honeysuckle, beeswax and mixed-citrus character.
Located at the former site of Bryon’s friend Victor Garvey’s restaurant Encant, the bar offers an evolving selection of under 100 wines, all of which are organic, with a strong focus on biodynamic and natural wines. Pioneers represented on the list include the Loire’s Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie; Céline and Isabelle Meyer of Domaine Josmeyer in Alsace; and Vanya Cullen of Western Australia’s Margaret River. Of the 15 wines available by the glass or carafe, Bryon always includes two skin-contact orange wines – one for committed “naturalistas” and a more accessible option for those whose palates are not so attuned to the often less familiar, more visceral flavour profiles of this style of wine. Elena Pantaleoni’s Ageno 2012 (£12.50 by the glass), from La Stoppa estate in Emilia-Romagna’s Val Trebbiola, is a fine example of the latter: copper-hued, with a powdery nose of hedgerow strawberries, iced tea, heather honey and Peychaud’s Bitters. The bright but chewy palate of peach skin and chamomile tea suited the robust pairing of Blu di Bufala cheese with pickled mushrooms.
A good example of one of Bryon’s more esoteric offerings is Sandra Kelton’s Tour Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2014 (£64 a bottle), a “sheep-only pruned” wild Ugni Blanc from Landes, between Bordeaux and Toulouse. It’s produced from the often-maligned Ugni Blanc grape, which here delivers real excitement, with a richness and herbal purity of fennel leaf, thistle and patchouli oil. I then sampled a chilled glass of Old Vine Pale (£11 by the glass) – a light Carignan and Mataro blend redolent of rhubarb, iodine and anise that Pilar Miranda and her husband make in Chile’s Maule Valley. In a list that leans towards France, Italy and Spain, this is an exciting inclusion and a characterful match for the garlic-rich Burgundy snails on the menu. Traditionalists will be soothed by the presence of wines such as Florence Trapet’s Rossignol-Trapet 2015 Bourgogne Rouge (£59 a bottle or £12 a glass). This is a blue-chip Burgundy from a seductively ripe, soft vintage, whose plush but vibrant, brambly red berry fruit is equally good with a plate of rillettes (a secret Bryon family recipe) or honey-glazed quail (helpfully deboned, for lazy types like me).
Refreshingly, Bryon’s list references the names of the owner or winemaker throughout, as well as the estate, underpinning a more intimate connection with the personalities involved – two-thirds of whom are women. This is a quality addition to London’s burgeoning wine bar scene – I hope Bryon’s ambitions for further openings in the future bear fruit.
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @winechapUK.