Tippling in the UK: Sampling London’s Wine Scene
London has one of the best wine scenes of any city in the world, particularly for those who love European wine, though these days some very serious bottles from the so-called ‘new world’ can also be found in the city’s best shops. One thing wine in London is not, however, is cheap. This is true not just for those shopping on the Canadian dollar but even for locals. The 20% VAT on wine doesn’t help, but I attribute the rest to London’s outrageous cost of living.
Putting cost aside, there are places in the city where you can walk in and not only purchase but also sample some of the world’s rarest wines. The only real competition in my mind is New York.
London’s Wine Bars
Wine bars abound in London. There are cool neighbourhood places, slick central London spots, geeky natural wine bars, and temples to Champagne. I could obviously not try every wine bar in the city, but with research found a number I highly recommend.
Wine bars generally sell glasses for 7 to 12 pounds, which translates to $13-$25 before tax. Some special classes can cost 15-20 pounds ($28-$38), but these are generally quite special. Of course, you get far more interesting wines for these prices in London than in BC.
This place is a blast and it’s all the real deal. Run by a couple French ex-pats, this small ‘natural wine’ focused bar in Marylebone offers not only some of the top names in Natural wine right now, but also a ream of small, fascinating producers (for example I tasted wine made from vines grown on a Sicilian beach). The owners like clean wines, too, which is not always true in the natural wine world.
One of the most important wine bars in the city, especially for fomenting the demand for natural wines. Terroirs is centrally located very close to Trafalgar Square and Oxford Circus. Despite this, it is not overrun by tourism and stays true to its ethos. This bar has inspired outlets in New York and San Francisco. The food is also outstanding and you will usually find at least a couple very interesting producers you have not tasted.
Kensington Wine Rooms
This gem of a local wine bar in Notting Hill is also a restaurant and retail shop. In my opinion, it is one of the best in London in terms of selection and price. While I was there they had a focus on ‘the new California’ with producers that are quite hard to find even in the US. This is exactly what makes London great.
Tired of Natural wine? 28-50 is run by a Master Sommelier and has a well edited selection of wines, though there can occasionally be some misses in my opinion. Grower Champagne by the glass and oysters is a good reason to visit this location after a busy day in central London.
Retail Wine in London
London retail ain’t cheap, but you can basically get anything you want, including very rare back vintages. There are numerous excellent shops in the city, despite most UK wine being sold through grocery stores. The reason is simple: sheer population.
My favourites are:
This place deserves focus. Owned by a Russian oligarch, the cheapest wine here is about 30 pounds, and prices go way up from there. The store is focused on only the rarest, most prestigious wines in the world and you will find rooms dedicated to Sauternes and Penfolds. You can also find verticals of producers such as JL Chave, Dauvissat, Raveneau, countless Bordeaux and Burgundy and, downstairs, the most mind-blowing collection of large format bottles I’ve ever seen.
The Sampler’s greatness is all in the name. Over 40 wines can be tasted in the enomatic, but this is no ordinary wine shop. At least 10-15 of those 40 are old. All of the wines are top quality and often hard to find. The two times I’ve been to this shop I tasted 1982 Jaboulet La Chapelle, 1999 Hill of Grace and, astonishingly, 1949 Domaine Huet, all in 2 ounce tasting pours for a price I could afford to taste wines I would never otherwise have the means to drink.