Bâtonnage offers a wealth of wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as regular tastings and events. Owner Richard Cavagin-Carey shows us round the Eccleston Yards bar and shop
Downtown Toronto, 2009. An old, large house. A French landlady called Eva. And a man in his mid-30s who is soon to change his career.
As if honouring centuries-old stereotypes, the French innkeeper was a woman who enjoyed her wine. “She would leave the remainder of the bottles after she had enjoyed her evening glass or two at the bottom of the stairs,” recalls Richard Cavagin-Carey. “She would encourage me to try; Chinon, Cahors, Beaujolais, Sancerre, Rhône. I recall the excitement when she would shout up the stairs. I remember thinking, ‘What wine will it be this time?’”
It would prove more than just a fond fleeting memory; it was the catalyst for Richard – then working in audio post-production and music composition for film and TV – to embark on a career with grape (sorry) expectations. “I hit the books, enrolled on courses and never looked back,” he says. He took what he calls “tentative steps” in Toronto – a job in a wine shop, a position in a wine bar – but it was moving to London five years ago when things really began to take off. “I was given a sommelier opportunity in Jason Atherton’s organisation,” he says. “Their executive head sommelier, Laure Patry, is still my true mentor and introduced me to a more natural approach to wine and winemaking.
“Around the same time I became a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and from there I headed into natural wine for a period, managing a wine bar in east London.”
After becoming head sommelier at Michelin-starred pub The Harwood Arms in Fulham – sister restaurant to The Ledbury – Richard would open his very own wine bar and shop, Bâtonnage, in February last year. The cosy, characterful site in Belgravia is part of the new Eccleston Yards development with its raft of trendy new restaurants and bars. “It was a good opportunity to become part of this collective venture in Belgravia/Victoria – it’s an area with a lot of exciting new businesses popping up.”
Richard hopes he has created a welcoming place for people to socialise with evenings candlelit and although music is important – expect jazz, soul, funk – you will never compete with it to hold a conversation. In the vino stakes, you will find classics from Burgundy to Bordeaux, but Richard says that he hopes to encourage guests to try more unusual grapes, styles and regions. “We offer a daily wine flight so you can sample from a variety of bottles,” he says.
Richard says that building clientele over the past year has been “an organic process” and says that many of his regulars appreciate a new wine bar in the area, particularly following the closure of Ebury Wine Bar. For Richard, the most important element – given the fact that wine isn’t always thought of as accessible or inclusive – is to make people feel comfortable and enthused about wine. “And if they are interested, educate them,” he says. “I have very little time for the old-school elitist approach to wine and see it as a barrier to many people being able to enjoy wine.” There are at least 20 wines by the glass available on a rotating list, with “recent hits” including a bold red from Madiran in south-west France, a red blend from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and orange wines (white wine made with a period of maceration on the grape skins).
The on-site kitchen is run by an Italian chef and daily fresh pasta is served alongside sourdough pizzas and charcuterie and cheese boards.
“We also have a rolling programme of themed wine-tasting events,” says Richard. “It could be an evening exploring rare indigenous grape varieties of Italy or an intimate event with winemakers presenting to a group. In April, we are having an exploration of South African wines.”
It’s all a far cry from Richard’s earliest memory of wine, viewing it as “a complete mystery and quite intimidating” when it was on the table every Sunday to accompany lunch.
For his five-year-old nephew, there may be a more vivid recollection. Celebrating Richard’s mother’s birthday recently, he opened a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé 2006 – a special gift after visiting the champagne house.
“I asked young Jack to put his nose in the glass and tell me what aroma he smelled. ‘Strawberries!’ he said. He nailed it and I was thrilled. Now that is a special early wine memory.” The old school elitist approach to wine is a barrier to many people being able to enjoy it.
Richard’s top five misconceptions…
Riesling is always sweet
It is disappointing how many guests reject the very idea of exploring Riesling based on the fact they assume it will always be a sweet wine. A result of the market being flooded with cheap, sweet bottles many years ago, it has unfortunately left a lasting impression. As a versatile grape, Riesling can produce wines across the spectrum from bone-dry to yes, sweet, unctuous dessert styles. But for dry options look for ‘trocken’ on the label.
Sulphur in wine gives me a headache
It is not sulphur that is giving you that headache! Sulphur is present in all wine at low levels to a greater or lesser degree as a natural result of the fermentation process and so cannot be avoided entirely. Beyond that, winemakers can choose to use (or not) further sulphur at various points in the winemaking process. It is useful in fact, stabilising, preventing oxidisation and protecting against bacteria. Cheaper, mass-produced wine may indeed have high levels. If you are concerned about sulphur – perhaps an intolerance – and are looking for wines with lower sulphur levels, consider organic or biodynamic wine where additional usage will be lower or nonexistent.
Screw caps mean poor quality wine
While in their early days [they were] a signifier of poor wine – they have been around since the late 1950s – the fact is that there are increasingly many wines today with screw caps that are of very good quality. It’s more a choice for the winemaker to make and they are commonly used, particularly with wines from the New World. They have the added benefit of factoring out cork taint – that damp cardboard smell, combined with a lack of fruit, which you should look out for when you sample wine in a restaurant.
Red wine is best with cheese
In fact the high tannins in big reds are no friend of the milk proteins found in cheeses. Consider, also, that the delicate flavours of cheese can often be masked by these wines. A better choice is a dry white wine – Riesling, Chenin Blanc, an unoaked Chardonnay perhaps. Or, for the ultimate pairing, blue cheese with a sweet white wine such as Sauternes or better value Monbazillac.
Bag-in-box wine is universally dreadful. There was a time when I would have agreed with this statement. But how times change! There are some lovely quaffable wines out there now that are packaged in this way. The packaging has environmental benefits too of course, is more portable, and will preserve the wine longer if not consumed at one sitting. While the world’s fine wines won’t ever find themselves in a box, that’s no reason to dismiss this rejuvenated trend. Try the excellent Burgundy and Beaujolais offerings from Le Grappin, or seek out the range of natural wines in-box from Vinnaturo.