Bored of bland wine lists? Want to try something new but don’t know where to begin? Tired of coughing up for an expensive bottle you don’t enjoy? Here’s a London wine bar guide to help you broaden your horizons.
These are the guys breaking the mould with intrepid wine lists, bold advice and by-the-glass tastings that won’t break the bank.
Something for everyone: Noble Rot, Bloomsbury
Noble Rot Restaurant & Wine Bar in Bloomsbury is something of an institution for wine lovers. Their wine list, which won Wine List Of The Year at the 2017 and 2016 National Restaurant Awards, is a thing to behold. Delve into it for an education into the world’s main grape varieties that turns preconceptions on their head, touting Chardonnay as the ‘world’s greatest white wine’, and pinot noir as the ‘heartbreak grape’. Their extensive by-the-glass list varies wildly in price from about £7 to £80 so there’s something for every budget. Follow @noblerotbar for some extra-curricular swotting.
Carefully curated: Nuala, Old Street
The new London wine bar on the block, Nuala, is an open-fire restaurant just off Old Street with a killer wine list that make it worth visiting just for that. Curated by sommelier Honey Spencer, previously of Noma Mexico and Sager & Wilde in East London, the wines are an eclectic mix of cult classics as well as an exploration into new wine regions from Slovenia to Austria, Greece to the Czech Republic.
“Many of these wines are naturally lighter and lower in alcohol with new and exciting flavours. Guests come in to try something new, which is amazing for us. It really feels like we’re offering something different.” says Honey. Follow @honeyspencer_ for plenty more wine inspo.
Go wild for natural wine:
P. Franco, Lower Clapton, Ducksoup, Soho and The Little Duck Picklery, Dalston
A neighbourhood wine shop-cum-bar, P. Franco in Hackney has earned its stripes as one of the best places to try wine in London. Natural wines is their thing, and with an ever-changing rotation of reds, whites and orange wines by-the-glass, go prepared for a glass of something unexpected. Phil Bracey is the guy in charge, and is always about to give advice. “In essence, we just want people to have fun when they visit us. Come in for a glass, a bottle, a snack or a meal. There is no formality to it”.
Ducksoup in Soho and sister-restaurant The Little Duck Picklery in Dalston do a similar thing by offering wines from a few trusted importers as well as some they personally import themselves. Rory McCoy manages the whole process; “these wines sit well outside conventional wine-making, so rather than the regular whites and reds, we offer a range of sparkling, oranges and rosés. There’s such a scope of colours and flavours – it’s impossible not to try something new.”
Best in British: London Cru, Fulham and Roast, Borough Market
UK wines have been enjoying a renaissance in the past decade, with more winemakers cropping up with new, award-winning vintages. For something close to home, London Cru are good place to start. A true purveyor of London wine, they produce all their wines in Fulham using a mixture of European and English grapes. Their fresh, floral Baker St. Bacchus hails from Bacchus grapes grown in Essex and Kent, and is as good an intro as any to English white wine.
Check out their sister online company, Roberson Wines, who run regular, affordable tastings at the London Cru winery. You’ll find most high-end restaurants around London offer at least one sparkling English wine, while Noble Rot (see above) offer a good selection too, but if you fancy a go at English reds, whites and rosés, head to Roast restaurant at Borough Market. Or find out how English winemakers are breaking the mould here.
Self serve: The rise of enomatic machine:
Vagabond Wines, various locations, Kensington Wine Rooms and Hedonism Wines, Mayfair
On a mission “to break down barriers within the wine world”, Vagabond’s by-the-glass self-service machines are all about showcasing small, indie winemakers and undiscovered wine regions with a choice of about 100 wines to try at any one time. As a London wine with six locations across the capital, they’re one of the most accessible places to visit too.
“We want to help our customers try good value wine while giving lesser-known regions a chance to shine. There are some really good wines out there – we’re loving the wines coming from Washington state in the US. This summer, we’ll be putting more focus on new rosés, showing off regions, like Rioja and Penedès from Spain, and launching our first vintage of Vagabond English Pinot Noir rosé from our new urban winery in Battersea Power Station”, says Vagabond’s Wine Buyer, Mark Flounders.
Enomatic machines that allow you to sample as many wines as you like at a small price make it an affordable way to try undiscovered vintages without breaking the bank (money is loaded up on a card so you can spend as you go) and the trend towards self-service wine bars is growing.
Check out Kensington Wine Rooms who offer an extensive, well-curated list of classic and newcomer wines to try, as well as affordable tastings. Hedonism in Mayfair is more pricey but great if you’re looking for a drop-in tasting that’s a little more niche.