By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 10 August 2019
The first ‘natural wine’ & cheese lounge has just opened its doors in my hometown of St Andrews.
Following the success of the Mellis family’s Edinburgh cheese lounge, they are now hoping to entice Fife foodies with their new artisan cheese and wine experience – with further plans to open a Glasgow lounge in the autumn.
“We want our cheeses to take centre-stage, but we feel the freshness, youth and vibrancy of natural wines compliment our cheeses particularly well, as they don’t overpower”, says Rory Mellis, eldest son of IJ Mellis cheesemongers’ founder (pictured above).
It was whilst visiting his eldest son Rory in Spain during his Erasmus year, that father Iain Mellis discovered natural wines.
“My dad loved the handcrafted nature of natural wines made by small scale producers with minimal technological intervention - and felt they had the same ethos as his own artisan cheese suppliers. He was inspired by the Basque people serving cheeses and charcuterie alongside natural wines”, says Rory Mellis
The concept of converting their daytime cheese shops into night-time wine and cheese bars came to Iain Mellis whilst in Hackney in London. “My dad and I often used to eat at a steak bar called Hill & Szrok, which we discovered was actually a butcher’s shop by day”, he says.
Now every Friday and Saturday evening the Mellis family convert their compact St Andrews store into a bustling 20-cover cheese ‘lounge’ with a distinct Parisian feel – with high stools, marble tabletops, candlelight and atmospheric music.
The menu is very simple. A 5-cheese board (£12), charcuterie platter (£11), Scotch egg (£5.50) and breads - with evening specials like warmed runny St Felicien cheese with honey and pears (£11) or Humphrey Errington’s Sir Lancelot cheese with honey and oatcakes (£10). Interestingly, there are no cheese or wine descriptions on the list.
“One of my Dad’s gripes is that you don’t describe the cheese – you need to taste it. This is because his vast range of farmhouse cheeses from around the world can vary from batch to batch – a bit like natural wines”, he says.
Eleven natural wines are available by the glass or bottle – focusing on France (mainly Loire and Rhone) with three wines from Abruzzo in Italy. What I liked about their tiny range of white, red and rose was their focus on lesser known grapes like Pecorino, Melon de Bourgogne, Roussanne and Montepulciano. They also sell a French ‘Pet Nat’ (petillant naturel) by the bottle – a trendy style of spritzy sparkling wine based on the ancient ‘rurale’ method.
Natural wines are often produced in tiny batches from low yielding dry-farmed vineyards using handpicked organic grapes. All Mellis wines are sourced from grape grower Christophe Bosque based 40km north of Nantes, who also works as negociant buying from other natural winemakers. Natural wines are almost always unfined and unfiltered so they can appear hazier than conventional wines – and tastewise they can also have quite funky wild feral flavours, which can match rather well with pungent riper cheese.
Cheese and wine matching is of course an important part of Mellis’ lounge experience, each wine carefully paired to compliment a particular style of cheese.
“It’s a bit like a tennis match bouncing back and forth”, says Rory Mellis. “We eat cheese to relieve the dry taste of wine – and we drink wine to refresh the palate after the cheese’s creaminess”. Matching certain cheeses with red wines can also often bring out the fruitiness in a wine, as in the mouth the wine tannins combine with the proteins in the cheese making the wine appear softer.
As a rule of thumb, when pairing the Mellis’ use contrasting flavours such as creamy Driftwood goats cheese matched with high acid fresh vibrant white wine like Pecorino - or with harder cheeses they go for a similar flavour profile with a firm cheese like Isle of Mull cheddar matched with fruity Cotes du Rhone.
Whilst Mellis and his staff like to suggest cheese and wine matches, they believe that as their natural wines are light-bodied and fruity, it makes them very versatile and can match with a multitude of cheeses.
ZORA COTES DU RHONE BLANC 2017 (13.5%)
£4 by glass; £18.70 bt drink in; £14.70 bt purchase in shop
Cheesematch: Flower Marie
Taste: Cloudy appearance, smoky funky nose slightly off-putting, but the sweet fruits and creamy texture on the palate is very attractive. It is not typical of Roussanne, but works well with the creamy texture, mushroomy sweetness and salty hints of Flower Marie, a soft lactic unpasteurized white bloomy ewe’s milk cheese from East Sussex.
PECORINO ‘SENZANIENTE’ 2017 (12%) ***STAR BUY***
£5.50 by glass; £24 bt drink in; £20 bt purchase in shop
Cheesematch: Driftwood or Moluengo
Taste: Deep yellow colour, rich apricot nose, pearskins and lychee notes, a rich intense version of Pecorino – delicious matched with soft silky ash-coated Spanish Moluengo goats cheese. Sanzaniente means ‘without anything’ – a wine made without any additives.
DIVIN POISIN 2018 (13.5%)
£5.50 by glass; £24 bt drink in; £20 bt purchse in shop
Grapes: 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache & 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
Cheese match: Isle of Mull cheddar
Taste: Smells almost Gamay-like with its peardrop notes, succulent fruit and pronounced acid – but finishes with dry tannins improved when matched with the sharp smoky backtaste of Mull cheddar.
COTES DU RHONE ROUGE 2015 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£4 by glass; £18 bt drink in; £14 bt purchase in shop
Grapes: Grenache, Carignan, Syrah & Mourvedre
Cheese match: Brie de Meaux or Baron Bigod
Taste: My favourite red in their range – mellow developed bouquet, a warm baked fruit palate, medium bodied with its lush fruits accentuated when matched with rich meaty intense Brie de Meaux.
MONTEPULCIANO 2017 (13%)
£5.50 by glass; £24 bt drink in; £20 bt purchase in shop
Cheese match: Taleggio
Taste: Bright ruby red, vibrant cherry fruits with sharp acid and dry tannins – not such a successful cheese and wine match as the wine seemed to be overpowered by the pungent mushroomy notes of the washed rind Italian Taleggio cheese.
IJ Mellis, 149 South Street, St Andrews KY16 9UN (01334 471410)
Cheese Lounge is open Friday and Saturday evenings from 7pm-10pm
IJ Mellis, 330 Morningside Road, Edinburgh EH10 4QJ (0131 447 8889)
Join Rose’s Italian wine & charcuterie tasting in The Scores Hotel, St Andrews on Friday 4 October £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com