James Lawrence hunts down London’s finest wine lists
Forty years ago, a typical London wine list was an exercise in restraint: a tour of the classic French regions, a German Riesling, maybe a Rioja and perhaps one or two Italian options, if you were lucky. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc had yet to arrive and, in fact, very few countries outside of Europe featured at all.
But (thankfully) times change. Today, London is probably Europe’s most exciting city in which to order wine, it’s global outlook embracing vintages from all corners of the world, from Argentina to India. And more importantly, top restaurants now understand that what you drink and how it’s served will make a major difference to your overall experience.
So, if you’re looking for somewhere that takes as much care as what goes into your glass as what you eat, and is willing to do something different, then consider one of the four restaurants below. From extensive lists with rare vintages to providing wines off the beaten track, they all have something exciting to offer.
Best For Sampling Wines By The Glass
16 Cavendish Square,
0203 141 6016
Darling of London’s wine trade, 110 Taillevent is possibly the best place in London to sample wines without having to fork out for a bottle. While most venues offer perhaps six to ten vintages in 70ml measures, Taillevent boasts 110 different wines available by the glass: red, white, rose, Champagne, the choice is yours. To find such a diverse range of wine styles by the glass in one restaurant is nothing short of astounding, even in London.
The restaurant was founded by the Gardinier family, which also owns a Bordeaux chateau and is a fantastic place to eat and, of course, to drink. The menu works by pairing different wines in various price brackets with each dish, served in 70ml and 125ml measures. Commendably, not one wine featured is a dud, on the contrary an enormous amount of love and dedication has clearly gone into creating one of London’s finest wine lists.
“110 Taillevent has revolutionised our enjoyment of wine”
But most remarkably, 110 Taillevent breaks new ground in offering rare and fine wines by the glass, something restaurants traditionally never did, because of the expense and wastage. What facilitates this is a modern wine preservation system that keeps the wine fresh under argon gas once it is opened called Coravin; a device which extracts wine without removing the cork. And so, 110 Taillevent has revolutionised our enjoyment of wine, allowing the passionate oenophile to sample legendary, but often prohibitively expensive names, without having to remortgage. Wines like Selosse, Chateau Haut-Brion and Lafite are all available by the glass at this wonderful new addition to London’s wine scene.
Best For Innovation
28-50 Marylebone Lane,
15-17 Marylebone Lane,
0207 486 7922
It was Xavier Rousset MS – founder of the 28-50 chain – that redefined the concept of a wine bar in London, offering a very diverse experience where diners can either enjoy a wide range by the glass, sample wines from the classic list or delve into the ‘Collectors List.’ The latter is a particular highlight; rare wines sourced from friends and associates of Rousset, with remarkably low mark-ups. And then there is the BYOB option, allowing gastronomes to enjoy their favourite bottles outside the home with again a very reasonable corkage fee. The cellar reflects the ethos of its owners and showcases fine vintages from across the globe, everything from Austrian Riesling to Slovenian Sauvignon Blanc.
However, the food doesn’t take a backseat at 28-50, and is as thoughtfully prepared and well-executed as the wine list. Wild Maldon oysters, oven-roasted hake and ricotta risotto hit all the right notes, as did the friendly and gracious service.
An essential part of any oenophiles to-do list.
Best For Value and Variety
16 Endell St,
0207 836 6801
10 Cases, a wonderfully unpretentious bistro in Covent Garden, is a place I’m rapidly falling in love with. It’s owner, Ian Campbell, has compiled funky styles of wine and obscure grape varieties into a short, concise list that will leave the traditionalists floundering. Forget Merlot and ubiquitous kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, instead discover Zweigelt, Vermentino and Verdicchio. The name 10 Cases refers to Campbell’s philosophy of only buying 10 cases of each wine. When it’s gone, it’s gone. They move on and buy something else, ensuring that the list stays fresh and interesting.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone”
Every bottle at 10 cases is also available by the glass and 50cl carafe, what’s more, the mark-ups are almost insanely reasonable. For unlike most West End venues, 10 Cases doesn’t expect you to pay three to four times the retail price for a bottle of indifferent plonk. In addition, customers can buy any bottle from the shop next door and drink it in the restaurant for a mere £12 corkage fee. Such reasonable mark-ups – £34 for a delectable Chardonnay/Roussanne blend from South Africa – encourage consumers to trade-up rather than stick to that old cliché of the second cheapest wine on the list. It’s simply a great place to drink great wine in every respect.
Best For Exploring the Unknown
Fera at Claridge’s,
9 Brook St,
0207 107 8888
Raphael Rodriguez, sommelier at the justly celebrated Michelin-starred Fera at Claridge’s, has dared to do something different. At such an iconic and glamorous hotel, one expects all the famous Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy superstars – expensive big brands that are available in most top-end restaurants. But, Rodriguez instead champions the little guy, the family outfit that no one has heard off. His expansive, dynamic and brilliantly diverse list shows off artisan producers from all corner of the globe, offering a truly harmonious, seamless food and wine matching experience. Start with a glass of moreish Eric Rodez rose Champagne or perhaps a Cotes du Jura Chardonnay, before exploring the delights of Cahors, which is where, incidentally, Argentine Malbec first originated. This, of course, is a wafer-thin slice of a much larger pie, over 700 distinct options await