The Thing About Grape Juice
Wine can seem to some like an intimidating and inaccessible thing. Angelo Van Dyk, the wine manager at Bedales however is of the mind that it can be enjoyed by all. Our food writer Anna, coincidently Angelo's sister, sat down with him in his east london flat to chat all things wine and hear where we can go to have a cracking glass of vino.
“I think wine gets put on a pedestal”, Angelo says. “All it is, really, is fermented grape juice”. We are sitting in his garden in north London on a sunny Thursday morning, attempting to unravel why it is that wine is so intimidating to so many people. I see it routinely, working in the restaurant industry: people order their meal with such confidence, but are completely flummoxed by a wine list. This is because wine has earned itself a somewhat obnoxious reputation, I think. It is romantic, and elegant, but it is also, to so many people, inaccessible, daunting and an expensive gamble that most would rather not take.
This is hardly surprising, too. One has to be trained in an elaborate ceremony of sniffing, swirling and slurping in order to properly taste the product. Most great bottles cost the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries. And then there is the wine bar: that intimidating, low-lit place filled with smooth jazz and people in suits discussing “the nose” of the drink. Why not just go to a bright, friendly pub where you can eat crisps out a packet and talk about Love Island?
This was the sentiment I had towards wine for a long time. I was lucky, however, to have a sibling whose passion for wine spilled over in to my life.
Angelo has worked with wine since he was twenty-two, but his love for it began in our home. Our parents were great entertainers who insisted on celebrating food and drink with friends as often as they could. It was no surprise, then, that Angelo chose to study viticulture at Stellenbosch University. What surprised him, however, was the amount of scientific detail and biological precision that winemaking demanded. Angelo quickly changed his focus to understanding wine, rather than making it himself.
His story unfolded gradually and gracefully from there, down in to the rabbit hole of wine. “The more you discover and uncover about it, the more you want to know”, he says with a smile. He worked the floor at Waterford Wine Estate when he was a student. He did a brief stint as a sommelier at one of South Africa’s most prestigious game reserves. There were eight months in Italy where he worked as a manual labourer on a wine farm in Soave. Once he returned to South Africa, he did his first real harvest in the cape vineyards. He wanted more. He moved to London. He quickly found Bedales, and his career and talent have blossomed from there. He now wears the title of wine manager for the trio of wine bars, and owes so much to his last few years living in the UK’s capital and working for the company. He has been able to meet some incredible producers and fellow wine lovers, as well as spend three months in Sonoma, California, doing a wine harvest for Windgap Wines. Because of this, he gained the knowledge and confidence to see through his own winemaking endeavour, which he completed in February of this year. By next year, he will have his very own vintage to his name.
My brother has, through time and hard work, accomplished so much. He has earned the respect of the wine industry. His most praiseworthy attribute, however, is that he has done so without losing a humility and authenticity towards wine that is hard not to be charmed by.
I love that Angelo can drink a £8 bottle of wine from Tesco and still celebrate it for what it is. There is still such a passion and approachability to him when he speaks about wine, or conducts a tasting. It is easy to understand wine when he explains it to you. Because of him, wine has been taken off its pedestal, without losing its magic. Because of him, The Wine Bar has become simply a welcoming space within which a special product can be best appreciated.
And there is no finer place to do this than in London.
“It is the epicentre of wine right now”, Angelo says. To him, London is the perfect storm of a close proximity to Europe and all of the incredible wine it has to offer, as well as a cosmopolitan city filled with young, passionate restaurateurs and sommeliers who love wine and are excited to showcase it to people. They are pushing the envelope in terms of what they are ordering, how they are listing it and serving it, and they are confident enough to sell these wonderful wines to customers such as myself who would otherwise be too nervous to take that gamble.
“The wine bar is crucial to paying tribute to the science, the romance and the craft of wine. There is such great joy in sitting down to a glass of wine in an environment where everyone is there to celebrate the same stuff”. He concedes that the wine bar is, in some respects, done far better in a country such as Italy – it is a European concept after all – but London’s bars make up for it with the talent and passion of the people behind them.
Yes, wine may just be fermented grape juice, but Angelo knows there is more to it than this:
“At a basic level, it is such a beautiful thing. But it is much more complex than jut grapes. You could spend your whole life studying it, and still never know everything”. And that’s because each vintage is a humble expression of a singular time and place. A glass of wine evokes emotion. It brings people together. It transforms the moment in which you taste it from mundane to extraordinary, while simultaneously reviving the moment in time - the winds, the rains, the sunshine- that produced that vintage alone. Ones experience of wine is as much dependent on the time and place and people you experience it with, as it is on the time and place and people that created it.
And all of this is encapsulated within a single glass of grape juice. “There is a miracle in that, surely?”
Angelo’s Best Wine Bars in London:
- Sager + Wilde, Hackney Road
“I love this bar because it was the first wine bar in London that made an impression on me”. Michael Sager’s space continues to inspire Angelo. It is the perfect combination of great music, intelligent staff, and a cracking wine list. Trust the staff to guide your order. You won’t be disappointed.
- P. Franco, Clapton
This small hole in the wall in east London is a true neighbourhood wine bar. They are greatly focused on natural, biodynamic and organic wines, and are pretty well priced. More than that, Angelo loves their take on food – they routinely have guest chefs who serve amazing small plates that are whipped up in the most make shift of kitchens. “This is a testament to what a space can do when wine is the central focus, rather than the food”.
- The Remedy, Soho
“There is something homely about The Remedy which just welcomes you in”, Angelo tells me. “The wines are so characterful, and when I sit at their bar, I feel like I could be sitting in my own kitchen”. They have a great selection, too, of both really approachable, well-known wines, as well as some great, more challenging options, for the more adventurous drinkers out there. Their staff will often ask you what you feel like and open a bottle from there, rather than dictate what you can order. “And there is something really special in that”, he concludes.
- Noble Rot, Bloomsbury
Noble Rot has been, for some time now, the trailblazers amongst wine bars in London. Their owners began by printing a wine magazine, and now they claim the most respected wine list, and wine bar, in London. They stock wine filled with stories, and incredible personality, as well as some serious big hitters – some of which are so special that they should be otherwise unattainable to the public. “Their wine buying is just astounding”, Angelo says to me, “I don’t know how they get their hands on such mega stuff!” However they do it, we are grateful for it.
- Nuala, Old Street
Nuala is new to the restaurant scene, and while it is more a restaurant than solely a wine bar, Angelo mentions it because of their sommelier, Honey Spencer. Her wine list has got a lot of attention of late, and understandably so. The layout is smart and accessible, and lists wines that are both ultra funky as well as tried and tested. This is a woman who understands her cliental, and has put together a list of great balance. Because of her, Nuala is worth a visit, even if for the wine alone.
Photography | Ariana Ruth
Words | Anna Van Dyk