The London wine scene is growing at an impressive rate, thanks to a handful of innovative wine entrepreneurs. Eager to shake off its dusty and austere image, these individuals have opened a refreshing mix of places where customers don't feel intimidated by the wine list, or have to endure a soliloquy from a sommelier. Their aim is to make wine bars feel relevant and exciting again, rather than cliquey or steeped in history.
It's cheering to note that the scene is healthy enough to allow a plethora of sherry bars, port bars, cava bars and English wine bars to thrive alongside traditional Champagne and Wine bars. The old guard is also moving: it's encouraging to see bottle prices drop across the board and a larger selection than ever of wines available by the glass. A selection of restaurants now even encourage BYO, allowing guests to bring their favourite bottle for a small corkage fee. Cheers to that!
Hot Dinners took a tour of London to find the best places to enjoy a glass of wine. We've selected ten wine bars which range from a 100 year old wine bar to a casual street food setup, all the way through to a brand new oenophile mecca.
4 Kingly St London W1B 5PE
In a nutshell: Slurp Chablis whilst hanging out with those in the wine trade.
Shampers is a Soho stalwart which has operated since the late 70s. Over the years this wine bar and dining room has also become an unofficial clubhouse for a majority of the London wine trade. With bottles of wine stored everywhere in sight, it's not hard to believe they serve over 200 by the bottle and 40 by the glass.
Price range: House wine £4.50 / £16.95. Bottles £20-40+
Wine menu strengths: The house wine at Shampers is a Sauvignon Blanc from Spain which will set you back £4.50 a glass (a decent price for Soho). Most glasses on the changing list of 40 are between £5.50 and £7.50. The wine menu is categorised by country, region, and grape variety. If Chablis, Sancerre and Beaujolais are familiar names, you'll feel very much at home here.
Food offering: Following the style of a Parisian wine 'Cave', Shampers has both permanent and daily menus. On the permanent à la carte, classic dishes such as English sirloin (£16.95), goats cheese salad (£6.95) and sausage and mash (£11.50) haven't changed much since the 80s. The proprietors are also proud of their daily menu which features brown potted shrimp (£7.50), venison and pork terrine (£6.50) and fish of the day – on the day we visited, haddock (around £16).
Fernandez & Wells
Various locations in central London
In a nutshell: Grab a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie
Coffee shop, wine and sandwich bar chain Fernandez & Wells has a trio of outlets in Soho. The first of these opened back in 2007 and is styled around the idea of a European market stall, serving up a stunning array of charcuterie, cheese and small plates alongside a 30 strong wine list. Founder and owner Rick Wells is heavily involved in sourcing and selecting wines for the list, which changes around three times a year.
Price range: House wine £5 / £24. Bottles £25-35
Wine menu strengths: The Fernandez and Wells wine list is closely tied to their food offering; the wines are sourced from just three countries, France, Italy and Spain. The main list features a choice of 15 reds and 15 whites but there are also a few rosé, fizz and a small selection of sherries which are exceptionally good value. If you find yourself at the bar with a few friends, the Folle Blanche, a white wine from the Loire valley, is a good option at £24.
Food offering: As those who regularly pass by the Lexington Street branch will know, the food counter here is a feast for the eyes. Their Spanish counter food selection is amongst the best you'll find in Soho. If you're keen to stay on theme the (red) Monastrell, a spicy and structured wine from Murcia (£25) is a perfect accompaniment for a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota (£11), a couple of slices of Manchego Gran Reserva (£5.50) and some Morcilla blood pudding (£5).
Cork and Bottle
44-46 Cranbourn St, London WC2H 7AN
In a nutshell: A quirky wine dungeon in the heart of Leicester Square
This quirky wine bar located directly beneath Leicester Square has to be seen to be believed. Nestled between an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and theatre ticket vendor is the small street level entrance to the Cork and Bottle wine bar. This well-kept secret is full of charm, soul and personality thanks to founder Don Hewitson, a larger than life character from New Zealand who set up the establishment in the early 70s.
Price range: House wine £5 / £20 Bottles: £25-£40+
Wine menu strengths: Every nook and cranny of this tiny space is packed with interesting and esoteric wines. The list comprehensively covers the major wine producing regions, both old world and new, however the Antipodean bias is noticeable with five pages dedicated solely to Australian wine and a further three on New Zealand. Given this coverage, two solid options are the Jim Barry 2010 'Cover Drive' Cabernet Sauvignon (£34.50) or the Tyrrell's 2010 Old Winery Semillon (£26.50).
Food offering: In a similar style to Gordon's, Cork and Bottle has a cheese and charcuterie display designed to encourage guests to have a bite whilst imbibing. The offering is distinctly old school but that doesn't stop dishes such as grilled pork chop (£8), Dorset crab (£8.50) and mackerel paté (£7) from being any less tempting, especially when you've just ordered your third bottle of Shiraz.
40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby St, London SE1 3PA
In a nutshell: Natural wine and ambitious cooking in a Bermondsey railway arch
40 Maltby Street started life as a small and focused wine importing business and quickly blossomed into a wine bar and bistro. This humble operation based in a railway arch saw a rapid rise to fame, with critics Marina O'Loughlin and Jay Rayner praising the food and laid back atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, the wine here is also worth shouting about. Guests can buy wine to take away or for an additional £12 can drink it with a few plates from the kitchen.
Price range: House wine £4.90 / £24.50 Bottles: £22-£50+
Wine menu strengths: The changing list is made up of wines sourced from small producers, and is organic, biodynamic or natural. You'll need a wine knowledge equivalent to that of an MW (Master of Wine) to be able to successfully navigate this list, without help from proprietor / owner Raef Hodgson. However, Raef is more than happy to share his knowledge of the French and Italian wine regions that the list mainly covers. The wine list here changes relatively regularly, so if you're the type to get attached to a wine, it might pay to look at buying a couple of bottles to take away (the take out prices are listed alongside the drink-in prices on the wine list).
Raef picked out the Maisons Brulees, a natural Sauvignon from the Loire (£30.50) and the Tricot Le Petit Rouge a Gamay (£31.50) as currently drinking well.
Food offering: The menu changes daily and is produce-led, which keeps regulars returning on a monthly if not weekly basis. The pork and green peppercorn terrine (£7), and Yorkshire ham (£9) probably won't be on the menu next week, but was enough to have us booking a return visit.
Street Feast (during opening times), Hartwell St, London E8 3DF
In a nutshell: Wine bar meets Street Food market
Making its debut just over a month ago, Street Vin is a clear sign that wine is finally shaking off its stuffy image and appealing to a new audience. Setting up shop at Street Feast, a weekly street food market in Dalston, Ruth Spivey has sought to bring quality wine to a street food environment.
Price range: £4 / £20 Bottles: £20-£50
Wine list strengths: Working around the constraints of no refrigeration and no glass allowed in the venue, Ruth has done an amazing job with the short but concise list, pouring 16 wines by the glass, 10 of which are served cold. For those hunting the esoteric, the range features top quality reds such as the Man O'War Dreadnought Syrah for £45, a selection of bargain bin ends, and a magnum of the week for just £50.
Food offering: Drinkers are spoilt for choice with a selection of 15 traders which change weekly. Grab a couple short rib tacos from newcomers Breddos Tacos (£5) to enjoy with a glass of Mas Coutelou (£5), or try a dessert matching experiment which joins a crème brûlée from Sweet Tooth Factory (£3) with a an off-dry Riesling from Kiwi producers Pegasus Bay (£6).
The 10 Cases Cave à Vin
16 Endell St, London WC2H 9BD
In a nutshell: Wine bar extension to popular Covent Garden restaurant
Since opening in 2011, The 10 Cases has been a hit, their philosophy, to only buy 10 Cases of each wine at a time led to the inevitable opening of a wine store next door earlier this year. Here customers can try a range of wines from their Enomatic sampling machines whilst stocking up their cellar.
Price Range: House wine £3.35 / £13 (500ml) Bottles: £22-£80+
Wine list strengths: With three house wines and a further eight available from the Enomatic, even the fussiest of wine drinkers will be well catered for here. The list changes regularly here, so it's worth buying a pre-credited tasting card to take advantage of the 25ml and 75ml samples that the Enomatic machines dish out.
Food offering: A great selection of wines calls for a generous menu to match and, taking advantage of the next door restaurant, the Cave à Vin serves up seasonal morsels such as Salt and Pepper squid (£8), Soft Shell Crab (£8), Pressed Confit Duck (£6) and Steak Tartare (£9). A daily specials menu of mains is also on offer for those with a more substantial appetite.
City, Marylebone and soon Mayfair
In a nutshell: New age wine bar serving a wide range of wines alongside classic French food
28-50 was opened by Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson, the restaurateurs behind the Michelin-starred Texture in Mayfair. Soon to open their third 28-50, the team have carved out a niche for serving top quality wine in a relaxed and unpretentious environment and were amongst the first to spearhead the 75ml measure for all of their wines by the glass, allowing guests to try a range of more expensive wine without having to splash out on a bottle.
Price Range: House wine £3.90 / £21 Bottles: £22-80+
Wine list strengths: 28-50 features 14 whites and 15 reds by the glass, a list which they change every month along with their main menu and bar menu. Also available in each branch is 'The Collectors List', a selection of cult wines and classics mainly focused on premium red wines but with a good choice of top end white wines particularly from Burgundy. If you're in the mood to celebrate you can pick up a Magnum of Chateauneuf de Pape favourites Beaucastel for £155 whilst a 1995 Mas La Plana is just £81
Food offering: 28-50 attempts to serve a simple menu of classic French food at a competitive price. Both the Marylebone and Fetter lane branches serve an all day menu consisting of small bites, starters, mains and sides. Emma the Sommelier at Fetter Lane suggests trying the Foie gras terrine (£7.95) with a glass of Malagousia, a creamy and fresh white wine from Greece (£6.10) or the Burger (£12.95) with a Bobal from Spain (£6.10).
Gordon's Wine Bar
47 Villers St, London WC2N 6NE
In a nutshell: A glass of Claret with a slice of history
No review of London wine bars would be complete without including Gordon's. Established in 1890, it is London's oldest wine bar, housed in a building which was home to Samuel Pepys in the 1680s and, more recently, Rudyard Kipling. The bar occupies a prime space on the bank of the Thames next door to Embankment station. The food is as hearty as it probably always has been and wine is still served in 175ml glasses. It is a hive of activity for the post work crowd most days of the week.
Price Range: House £4.80 / £17.10 Bottles: £19-£40
Wine list strengths: For a 100 year-old wine bar, the list at Gordon's is varied without being needlessly lenghty, wines are listed by style (Full Bodied Reds, Refeshing White Wines) instead of country. Visitors would be well advised to keep their eyes on the blackboards scattered around the interior of the bar. These carry special's, bin ends and half bottles, many of which aren't listed on the main list. Grab a half bottle of Rioja (£13.90) and head out to the terrace to enjoy some evening sun.
Food offering: The owners describe the food at Gordon's as 'traditional and well-priced grub'. This probably isn't the place to get a full meal, but the selection of French and English cheeses (£8.80 for two), freshly made pies and salads (from £8.20), Pates and Scotch Eggs, are designed to keep customers from starving whilst they order another round.
Sager and Wilde
193 Hackney Rd. London E2 8JL
In a nutshell: A plethora of top-rate wines by the glass for cheaper than retail
Sager and Wilde caused quite a stir last year when they ran a series of events in Old Street where they served over 30 rare wines by the glass for under £10. The idea struck a chord with enthusiasts as well as those new to wine alike. After a long period of planning, this husband and wife duo opened the doors to their permanent venue on Hackney Road at the end of August 2013.
Price Range: House wine £5 Bottles: £30-£80+
Wine list strengths: Following exactly the same formula which brought them such a large following at their events last November, Sager and Wilde promises to bring customers an ever changing selection of ‘benchmark’ wines from leading producers, most of which will be available for between £5-£10 a glass. Those willing to spend a little more will have access to incredible wines, for example the Domaine des Comtes Lafon Mersault, a white Burgundy will cost £14.50 a glass / £80 a bottle. This wine is typically seen in wine stores for £120 and almost three times as much if ordered in a restaurant.
The team have gone to great lengths to ensure that they have an amazing selection of rare cult wines from producers such as Domaine Dujac, Henschke, Chateau D'Yquem, Shafer and Dagueneau amongst others.
Food offering: No strangers to the hospitality industry, the team have set about creating a simple menu using top quality ingredients such as Charcuterie from Natoora, cheese from Androuet alongside home-made pickles and Tartines, not to forget the now famous Sager and Wilde grilled cheese sandwich.
1 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AA
In a nutshell: Sample a selection of the best English wines available
What started as a small and ambitious project to champion the increasing number of quality English wines coming to market has grown into a one of a kind shop come wine bar. ‘London’s first English wine tasting room’, the Wine Pantry has arguably helped brands such as Nyetimber and Camel Valley break into the mainstream and challenge the image of English wine as being ‘overpriced and low quality’.
Price Range: £4.50 a glass, 6 samples £5 Bottles: £11-£45+ (Plus £5 corkage)
Wine list strengths: The Wine Pantry has the widest and most up-to-date selection of English Wines in London. It has become a hub for English wines, a place where people can come to learn about the ever increasing selection of top quality wines being produced in this country. Founder and owner Julia Stafford recommended the Camel Valley Bacchus (£15.99) white wine as a match with seafood whilst the Charles Palmer sparkling (£49) would ‘see even Madame Bollinger take a well-deserved break from Champagne.’
Food offering: Being located in the heart of Borough Market, drinkers don’t have to go far to find other top quality examples of British produce with charcutiers Cannon and Cannon, Alsop and Walker cheese and the Ginger Pig (and their irresistible sausage rolls) just a few minutes’ walk away.
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