The Buyer
Chris Wilson on Humble Grape’s launch into the on-trade

Chris Wilson on Humble Grape’s launch into the on-trade

There is nothing ‘humble’ about the meteoric rise of London’s Humble Grape wine bar-restaurants operation. Now it wants to replicate that success in the on-trade. At its first-ever full tasting to launch the new wholesaling division, over 400 wines were shown from over 50 producers in 16 different countries. Who better to kick the tyres on this new setup than winemaker Chris Wilson who was suitably impressed and picks out 10 wines he thought sommeliers ought to know about.

Chris Wilson
10th April 2022by Chris Wilson
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

“Sometimes a wine can really knock your socks off when you’re least expecting it. This is one of those wines and it completely broad-sided me,” writes Wilson.

With five successful wine bars in London – from Canary Wharf in the east to Battersea in the south west – Humble Grape has the capital covered, but with its latest venture it wants to spread the love even further.

Ever since James Dawson set up Humble Grape in 2009 (from very humble beginnings indeed, he delivered wine to private customers on his motorbike while holding a full-time job in the City) the company has been championing and importing wines from family-run vineyards across the world, with an emphasis on organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines.

As well as its wine bars-cum-restaurants it runs a successful online Direct To Consumer business and has built up an impressive portfolio of more than 400 wines from over 50 producers. Now the plan is to target the on-trade right across the UK and work as a supplier to wine bars, restaurants and hotels, using its diverse and quirky selection of wines and its sustainable ethos to forge a further outlet for this exciting range of wines.

Humble Grape tasting, Fleet Street, London

Last month Humble Grape opened the doors of its Fleet Street branch for its first ever on-trade tasting event, offering buyers the chance to sample the full portfolio for the first time.

It was a great chance to dive into this ambitious but clearly defined selection, which leans towards the Old World, but has a dazzling array of box-ticking wonders (natural, orange, rare, unconventional) to appeal to even the most out-there buyer.

There were plenty of decent ‘must-haves’ from Champagne, Burgundy, Barolo and Rioja, but real strength lay in ‘the other’… wines from the less fashionable countries and regions, made of weird grape varieties. These are the wines which should see sommeliers reaching for their cheque books.

So with all this in mind here are a hatful of Humble heroes from the tasting that are guaranteed to light up any wine list…

Soutiran Champagne, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, NV

From the south-facing slopes of the Ambonnay region comes this intense and alive Blanc de Blancs Champagne. This drinks like a wine rather than a fizz, in that the effervescence takes a back seat to the depth of flavour; there’s lemon and melon fruit, tertiary sourdough notes and welcome complexity.

Garnier & Fils, Chablis 1er Cru Montmains, 2018

How do you kill a circus? Go for the juggler. How do you judge a wine list? Go for the Chablis. There are plenty of average Chablis around so if a list has a brilliant Chablis (or two) you can be assured that the rest of the selection is up there too. This is full and bright, an open book of pear, candle wax, greengage acidity and a smidge of wood. Just lovely.

Massimo Ronca, Corvina, 2018

Punchy with ripe cherry fruit, blueberry compote and a tickle of tannin, this Corvina from the Veneto is the Italian wine you didn’t know you needed. A true crowd-pleaser it’s ripe and full in the mouth with a lovely pomegranate acid finish.

Casata Mergè, Sesto 21 Syrah, 2019

You don’t see many Italian Syrahs but this one from Lazio, on the border between Frascati and Monte Porzio Catone, is a belter. Crunchy – almost Swartland Grenache like in profile – with a brimful of raspberry and blackcurrant fruit and a delicious creamy mouthfeel.

Weingut Von Winning, Ungeheuer, Riesling GG, 2016

Referred to by the Humble Grape team as ‘Von Winner’ because the wines are so good, this Pfalz winery makes a very impressive collection of wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are notable for their freshness, but it’s the aged Riesling which really stands out. The Ungeheuer is a classified Grosses Gewächs wine and is made with time and attention; it’s aged for 16 months in old 500L oak before even longer in the bottle. It’s rich but deft, with yellow plum fruit and sherbet. Lovely weight in the mouth and the acidity is tempered by all that time in oak and glass.

Winzer Familie Gregor Schup, Rotgipfler, 2012

Sometimes a wine can really knock your socks off when you’re least expecting it. This is one of those wines and it completely broad-sided me – I kept having to go back and taste it again up until the point where I was given a ‘pour pour’ (half a glass) and sat down to really take it in. Made from the Rotgipfler grape it has a distinct aroma of fairground honeycomb, a sort of savoury sweet shop smell. This is even more pronounced in the mouth where it’s joined by burnt rusk and dried tropical fruit. Just incredible, what a wine.

Matic Wines, Get The Party Started Amphora Riesling, 2019

This Slovenian orange Riesling is stunning – one of those wines that smells so good you don’t want to taste it in case it lets you down on the palate. It doesn’t. There’s guava and wax on the nose, then further tropical fruit on the palate, as well as a cider apple tang and a long lush finish.

Gönc Winery, Yellow Muscat, 2020

There’s a soft drink in South Africa called Fanta Grape, this smells just like that. It must be the yellow muscat. This is a lovely wine, bright and fresh with jasmine flowers, lychee fruit and a subtle but vital acidity. So easy drinking, and very different.

Blackwater, Zeitgeist Cinsault, 2018

The Blackwater wines are made by South African Francois Haasbroek (formerly at Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch) who sources fruit from all over the Western Cape for his exciting range. The standout on the day was this Cinsault from Swartland which is studded with black cherry fruit, chewy tannins and a developed finish of liquorice and wet soil.

Rombauer Vineyards, Chardonnay, 2020

Classic Cali Chardonnay. Rich with lots of oak and a splash of sunshine-flecked tropical fruit; mango, nectarine, peach. Fleshy in the mouth with a crutch of lime acidity. Textbook.