A wine drinkers’ delight? Fly by Night, Cardiff City Centre.

The proliferation of Cardiff’s cocktail bar scene seemingly continues apace with the Botanist the next one due to open shortly. I must admit that I find the economics of this all rather perplexing. Is there really a market from so many (368 bazillion on St Mary Street alone- OK slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean) in Cardiff?

I know many people like the theatre of a cocktail and they seem to be getting more and more outrageous and complex. Personally I have no desire to wait twenty minutes for my drink nor for it come with a bunsen burner and the contents of a garden centre/greengrocer attached to it, but each to their own I suppose (the younguns in the office seem to love them)

Most cocktails are just not my thing, as I just can’t get to grips with most spirits (they hate me too, it seems, if the morning after is anything to go by).

I can drink a few of the simpler classic cocktails (margarita, caipirinha and a bloody mary, with a pisco sour about as adventurous as I get) and I am very partial to a Shaky Pete (does a G&T, She&T or a rebujito count as a cocktail?), but have little patience for some of the new wave theatrical (and all too often overly sweet) ones if I am honest (keep it simple and sour, like me, I say).

This brings me to Fly by Night, yet another cocktail bar in the City centre. What this place has, in addition to the ubiquitous cocktails, is a wine bar offering (still somewhat of a rarity in Cardiff).

Readers will be aware that I am a bit of a fan of wine (to put it mildly) and my main hobby is collecting (and drinking) wine. Over the years, I have managed to build up a small stash.

Currently my favourite places in the city centre wine wise are the Spanish (my first and enduring love wine wise) focused Curado bar, Bar 44, Asador 44, as well as Wright’s Wine (great for off beat quirky stuff, with a natural wine focus) and (with its superlative list) the Pinot Wine Bar at the Parkhouse Restaurant and Bar. Moving out of the centre you have the likes of the Bottle Shop (in Roath and Penarth – I have hopes they will expand out to West Cardiff) and Uisce (in Pontcanna) offering a fine selection of vineous delights.

Any new place with a decent wine offering is a good thing to my mind, with far too many places (the above stated ones excepted) offering “by the numbers” list with little of interest on them for me

The place

It may be regarded by some as a bit kitsch, with the velvet (or is it velour) seating in purple and blue,

but I quite like the bare brick walls (if you are old like me bag a window seat as you wont be able to see much in Stygian gloom the minimal lighting achieves).

Comfy seats are a must for an old git like me and these were fine for me to slump into.

The ceiling is rather nice, with a Japanese cherry blossom effect.

Staff are on hand to answer questions about the wine and were happy to make recommendations based on likes and dislikes (pretty good ones at that). It was gratifying to have a bottle of still water and glasses provided without having to ask (it was promptly replaced without us asking, when we had finished the first one).

The drink

The list perplexed me a bit if I am honest. The big plus is it includes some interesting grapes and wines from off the oft beaten track

So, for example, it features a txakoli (the hondarridi zuri – the grape – on the list) from the Basque Country in Spain, a bacchus (outside of fizz, England and Wales’ great white hope on the wine front) from Kent, a cabernet sauvignon from China (Ningxia) and a godello from Galicia in Northern Spain. It is great to see these wines and grapes here as it makes it a far from “by the number” list.

There is, however, a but and that is the fact that the list lacks detail in terms of producers and vintages. This can make a huge difference in terms of retail price and to me in terms of the quality of what you get. Great it gets people drinking something hopefully new to them, but personally I need a bit more info.

By way of example, lets look at the rioja garnacha on the list (at a carafe price -37.5cl – of £15.50). Is that good value or not? At first sight I have no idea as prices for garnacha wines in La Rioja range from dirt cheap to frighteningly pricey. A La Maldita Tinto 2017 will set you back, retail, £5.50 (total bargain at that price mind) whereas a bottle of Quinon de Valmira 2016 from Bodegas Palacios Remondo sells for over £350. On vintages, an example of the difference in price is CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva (a drop dead gorgeous wine) from La Rioja. The 2004 of this wine sells for £90 + and the 2011 and 2012 for just over £41. Give me a 2004 in a restaurant/bar for £120 and I would probably bite your hand off (Mrs. SF would be less happy I fear), but paying the same £120 price for a 2012 would make me a lot less keen.

Obviously there are lots in between, but the list gives no information to allow an assessment as to the value or otherwise of what is on it. If it is the former with the £5.50 (or something of that ilk) a carafe price of £15.50 (so £31 a bottle) would be pretty steep (well over 5 times the retail price), but if it is a wine that retails at £15+ a bottle then it starts to look pretty good value. As it happens it was the latter, but you won’t known unless you ask or buy it and find out later.

I actually decided to ask who the producer of the rioja was and they were happy to say and even bring over the bottle. What, however, if I was undecided and therefore have a few options in mind? Do you have to keep on asking? Perhaps the idea is to get an element of interaction with the staff. This is actually quite nice when the place isn’t busy, but I can imagine it could be problematic if they are really busy.

J and I did actually plump for the rioja garancha,

which turned out to be Root Vines made by Bodegas Corral – Don Jacobi (middle row middle bottles in the pic).

This was pleasant easy drinking number, with both red and richer black fruit and a touch of vanilla in the mix.

Whilst a little on the young side, with the tannins still quite robust, it was pleasant enough for the price (£5 per glass, £15.5 for a half bottle carafe and £31 per bottle as against a retail price of £15 plus as far as I can ascertain). It is a wine that probably would benefit from being drunk with food (a mature Cheddar or Caerphilly from the all British cheese offering here would work well I think).

On a second visit (with a much larger group from work) we ordered a godello from North West Spain (Valdeorras) in the form of a bottle of “The Orange Republic” from Casa Rojo (£8 per glass, £22 for a half bottle carafe and £44 for a bottle as against a retail price of £21)

Very pleasant drop this, with minerality and citrus coming though on the nose and a juicy orchard fruits and a back note of citrus on the palate.

Nice level of acidity made it a very refreshing number. Good wine this, which went down very well with our party.

We also had a primitivo, which was not perhaps of the same level of quality as the godello but still pleasant enough.

Lots of cherries and plums, as well as a touch of mocha, coming from this wine. Like the rioja, this would perhaps benefit from being drunk with food. Decent price for this (a glass is £4 50, a carafe £12.50 and a bottle £25) as it retails at over £16.

On the sparkling front it is nice to see an English one, in the form of Greyfriars (a Surrey winery).

Made from chardonnay grape, this has a bag load of fruit (citrus and green apples) and a nice level of acidity.

Again price fairly (with a glass £6.50 and a bottle £38) as it retails at over £24.

A Welsh fizz would seem to me to be a good idea for the list (there is some lovely stuff being produced, here in Wales, by the likes of Ancre Hill).

The most recent visit was very much Spanish focussed with a white and red reserva from Baigorri (2010 for the red – an excellent vintage in La Rioja – a lovely drop, just entering its prime) and a Bodegas Casa Rojo monastrell from Jumilla (bags of black fruit).

All very nice (and fairly priced – keeping to the around 2x retail mark up level), but I was a bit vexed by (yes you have guessed it) the lack of any sherries on the list. To me it is rather a shame, with the cheese offering (see below), that sherry is not a wine that features here. I did raise this with them and, with some justification, they said that for sherry Curado Bar and Bar 44 were pretty difficult to compete with.

I sort of get this, but still think the lack of sherries is a bit of a missed opportunity. Chilled finos and manzanilla are great to drink on a warm evening and amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos are fantastic paired with cheese. This brings me rather neatly onto the food offering.

The food

The food is limited, but in a very good way in that it is cheese but not just any old cheese – this is cheese from the Cheese Pantry in Cardiff market.

In other words it is bloody good (all British) cheese. Amazingly Britain produces many more types of cheese than France, so there are more than enough to choose from.

In my view it is a common misconception that only red wine or port go with cheese.

Lots of white wines (and not the obvious sweet wine and blue cheese combo – lovely as a roquefort and a sauternes are) go with cheese.

An oaky chardonnay or a white rioja go well with cheddar and dry riesling works a treat with goat’s or sheep’s cheese.

Finally, that food wine par excellence, sherry (and not forgetting Montilla Moriles wine) goes well with pretty much every cheese. An amontillado or palo cortado hits the brief as a fantastic all rounder in terms of working with cheese. Regrettably none on the list here.

We ordered the cheese board to share (£18)

and got a very good selection of soft, hard and blue cheeses, with lots of interesting stuff. Crackers (the very underrated water biscuit here) were plentiful (hate it when a place is tight with the crackers) and we were told if we needed more to just ask.

All the cheeses were in really good nick, with the stars of the show being the Baron Bigot, a Bath blue and a pungent truffle laden Gloucester number. A punchy onion chutney brought things together nicely.

I really liked the fact that with the cheeses they asked what we liked (anything and everything in J and mine’s case), so if you prefer a certain style of cheese they will focus the board on that style as far as is possible.

Good value for the £18 price tag I thought.

The verdict

The wines I have had at this place have been pretty good and fairly priced. That is a big tick in the box as far as I am concerned.

I love the fact that all the wines are sold by the glass, in carafe (nice half bottle size) and by the bottle. Gives you plenty of options.

There is plenty of stuff of interest on the list, but I do have a couple of issues/qualms.

Firstly (my usual moan), where are the sherries. So many good ones around and they pair so well with cheese. If they get them in then no small pours (100ml min.), price them fairly and put them in proper glasses please.

Secondly, I think they need to be more proactive in promoting ” off list” specials.

The specials they do have, judging from their Instagram feed

and the specials I have drunk in the place are pretty interesting.

They just need to make them more accessible. Use a board or something of that ilk to tell you what have as specials and how much they are. Again I suspect the idea is to get some interactive action with the staff in terms of what the specials are, but I think a board with prices on it would help sell them.

Thirdly, I personally need more info on the list – at least the producer and ideally the vintage.

Would I go back? Small qualms aside, it is a nice place offering decent wines at fair prices. That is a boat floater for the likes of me, so that is a yes. The cheese offering just adds to the positives.

I have visited quite a few times and have enjoyed each one.

It is nice to see them doing tasting events. I went to a very enjoyable and informative tasting of South African (a wine region which is really showing its class these days) wines.

These sorts of meet the producer events (Curado Bar does them too) are a great way to learn about wine – with the ability to get info straight from the horse’s mouth. I love chatting to producers about their wine (they probably think I am a terrible bore) and I hope this is the start of many more such tasting events at Fly by Night. I understand the next one may well be showcasing the wines of Chateau Musar (a legendary Lebanese producer) in September. One to put in the diary that.

The details

Address: 11 High Street, Cardiff, CF10 1AW.

Tel: 029 2117 0000

Website: Click here (Facebook page)

Twitter: @flybynightbars

Instagram: @flybynightbars

Opening hours: Sun – Thurs: 13.00 – 23.00, Fri – Sat: 12.00 – 00.00;


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