Why Sunday's are worth waiting for...

Why Sunday's are worth waiting for...

Once you've risen from your deserved lie-in, maybe over a cup of tea or coffee, you can begin to chuckle at the comments on the latest Jay Rayner restaurant review.

Jay Rayner, restaurant reviewer for The Guardian/Observer

Whilst his reviews are a lesson in food writing in their own right, it's the comments that elicit the most fun from Rayner's weekly scribblings.

There's a good reason for that. He's one of the few writers who actually replies, mostly just once or twice, to those commenting. This week, with a review of a London restaurant The Other Naughty Piglet was no exception (coming back to a witless commentator that they needn't worry, because he'd never review another restaurant in Cardiff again).

However, that's not why we're interested in Rayner's latest verdict.

Unusually for UK restaurant critics, he's not afraid to bring wine into the equation, thankfully.

Here, at the south London restaurant that otherwise is turning out decent food, at attractively reasonable prices for the capital, it's the wine that lets it down.

What undoes this, sadly, is another all “natural” wine list. Margaux Aubry takes it on the chin when I reject a glass of natural Lambrusco for being essence of farm yard and as murky as urban canal water. We hunt for something from the softer end of natural and do find it, but as ever with such a list it’s expensive. Not Pétrus 1953 expensive, but more than I would usually pay. It’s so unnecessary when everything else is so compelling.
— Jay Rayner, The Guardian

Two things emerge from this "urban canal water" that are worth noting.

The first is that many of the commentators, bar the odd wine geek, have no idea what "natural wine" is. (This in itself is enlightening in highlighting the gap between what the average punter in the street knows, and what the wine business thinks they do.)

When I read Jay’s comments I get a mental image of the food critic in the film ratatouille. I am also clearly getting out of touch as I haven’t heard of half the ingredients mentioned—and what the fuck is natural wine? Is there such a thing as unnatural wine?

I dare say there are some decent natural wines out there, but so many disappoint, it’s ridiculous. I’m sure this fad will pass, and we’ll all realise that wine as most people know it is perfectly natural enough, thank you…

Natural wine, what’s that all about ?

Oh! I’ve had so many disastrous glasses in this “real wine fad”
There’s an exhibition in Wapping E London ( natch) each year which is just Russian roulette. They tend not to keep either and the spoilage rate is very high.
It’s all about purity and not quality.

It’s also one of Jays biggest berserk buttons. Google Jay Rayner and natural wines to understand his feelings on the subject.

To be fair, there was one comment that actually supported the wines being "natural" at the place. But the point here is that in the wine trade most seem under the illusion people at large are aware, and accepting of such wines. Not so would actually appear to be the case.

The second point and one that's going to get a lot more pertinent as we enter the turbulent waters of Brexit weather conditions is that of price.

Even if we do accept, and like, "natural" wines; are we prepared to pay a premium for them?

It raises the thorny issue that when someone in a restaurant has decided they like particular wines, they're going to impose those wines, and their cost, onto you. Is that ever the mark of a good restaurateur? On the flipside, there are far too many restaurants who know nothing about wine and impose that absence of judgement upon us, with no option but to divert to an alternative drink.

No-one wants to pay more for something they don't want to drink (or eat for that matter; if it happened with the food the restaurant would be bust in no time). So why not offer alternatives?

A smattering of wines that are perfectly good, possibly even organic or biodynamic (and so having a link to the natural wine movement), yet not fully "funky" could help widen the appeal. Using more than one supplier, like one who specialises in great "normal" wines again would broaden the list's spectrum of appeal.

Just as with a good food menu, a wine list should be balanced, unintimidating, and encourage experimentation. But without being exclusive.

And that's what's fun about a Jay Rayner review. He doesn't just focus upon what's on the plate. When something else is awry, it can jeopardise the whole experience. He's one of the few reviewers who takes wine into his critical compass when thinking about that. Good on him.

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