When we think of the capitals of wine culture in the world, our minds immediately swing toward the Old World, particularly in the famous vineyards of France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Whether it be the rolling Tuscan countryside, the schisty mountains of Catalunya or the world-famous stretch of the Cote d'Or in France, we're immediately catapulted to the area of production. But what if we were to tell you that the best place to drink wine, in the world, was a major city, with practically no vineyards?
Welcome to London, the European capital of wine culture and arguably the best place to drink wine in the entire world. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Yet it's true. It's no accident, but a combination of factors that has led London to be such a consumer-driven powerhouse in the world of wine. Historically Britain has been a strong political and economic force for a long time, backed by a powerful navy, a vast empire and a gradually increasing middle-class aspiring for the finer things in life. Add to the mix that most land in England is generally unsuitable for wine production and you have the perfect mix for a thirsty, educated and worldly wine loving crowd! Despite competition from New York and Hong Kong, London remains the centre of fine wine in the world, with a plethora of auction houses, restaurants, bars and shops all dedicated to the grape juice we love so much. The best bit about it all? Due to Britain's limited wine production, you can buy wine from absolutely every corner of the world here.
So, where are the best places to explore the world of wine in London? There are so, so many it's hard to narrow it down, but we thought we'd make life easier by listing our top favourite wine bars, as well as our top favourite wine shops in the capital. Whether you're a die-hard wine lover or just fancy a glass of something delicious after a days exploration of this majestic city, this guide is for you!
There's never been a more exciting time to drink wine in London. All across the city, exciting restaurants and bars are opening up, competing to have the most interesting, eclectic and exciting wine lists. Owners and buyers scour the continent for new producers, exciting new projects and old cellars to raid, all in the hope of showing something special on their list in London. We're going to take you through a tour of our favourite places to drink in London, and we hope you have the chance to visit them all someday!
51 Lamb's Conduit St, London
A visit to London simply isn't complete if we don't spend at least a few hours in Noble Rot, preferably over a delicious bottle of something they've dug up from a far-flung land. Noble Rot is a wine bar and restaurant in Bloomsbury, owned and ran by Dan Keeling, Mark Andrew MW and their enthusiastic and friendly staff. We first discovered it through their fun, quirky wine magazine under the same name, which is how it all got started. Fast forward a few years, and it's become the wine destination for many in London, with a beautiful wine list covering the world in a truly unique manner, as well as some superb wines by the glass, including a different special offer every day.
Fancy trying a 2nd growth 1990 Bordeaux by the glass? Noble Rot is your spot. Top quality Cru Beaujolais from the 2010 vintage? Noble Rot again. Heart-breakingly good Champagne, from a grower you've never heard of before? Well, I suppose we don't need to tell you where to go for a glass. Warm and inviting with excellent food, and big bonus points for serving even their most affordable wines in beautiful, hand-blown Zaalto glasses. Truly a wine-lovers paradise. For more information, make sure to visit Noble Rot online.
5 William IV St, London
What do you get if you cross a forward thinking French restaurant with the cities most impressive natural wine list? Terroirs! This little gem has been doing a roaring trade since it first opened in 2009, despite the shock-and-awe that its wine list first brought to the city. Backed by Les Caves de Pyrene, one of London's most respected importers and distributors of natural wine from around Europe, Terroirs has helped expand palates around the city, all with the rustic charm that can only be found in a French kitchen.
Despite its many, many immitators, none have quite come close to the success of Terroirs; so what's their secret? Nothing complicated, in truth. Beautifully cooked French cuisine, served simply and at a fair price, backed by an utterly brilliant wine list composed of some of the best names you've never heard of. This is definitely a restaurant for the adventurous wine-lover and even if you're a touch suspicious of the natural wine movement, rest assured, Terroirs pick their wines first and foremost on a quality basis. Put yourself in the hands of their skilled waitstaff – you won't be disappointed! For more information, make sure to visit Terroirs online.
Sager and Wilde
193 Hackney Rd, London
This charming little wine bar is our favourite spot to drink in East London, and it's gone from strength to strength since it opened in 2013. London was crying out for a cool, casual spot in East London, where you could grab a quick bite to eat, something delicious to drink and absorb the atmosphere on a busy Friday night. Charlotte Wilde and Michael Sager obliged. Our favourite thing about this bar is the wonderful selection by the glass, with around 30 different options to choose from, from absolutely all over the world. Want to try a rosato wine from the rocky slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily? How about a Grenache based wine from the arid, dry plains of the Swartland in South Africa? Perhaps a Dry White Port and Tonic to sip on whilst you make up your mind?
If that wasn't enough, Sager and Wilde have really upped their game when it comes to food in the last few years. They've long been famous for their exceptional cheese toasties, made with top quality cheeses from Neil's Yard and literally oozing with personality and flavour. However, they've now added on a few more plates that change seasonally, so you can match that South African Grenache with some Black Angus Beef Carpaccio whilst you're waiting for your toasty to be ready. Reserve a table and thank us later! For more information, be sure to visit Sager and Wilde online.
The New Zealand Cellar
49 Brixton Station Rd, Brixton, London
A relative newcomer to the list, and a welcome one at that! Melanie Brown has created something truly special in a remarkable location. In Brixton, The New Zealand Cellar operates out of an old shipping container, along with a number of other local businesses as part of an initative to convert what used to be a derelict site. Today it's home to a number of restaurants, bars and shops, but we're there for the very best wines from New Zealand!
The UK is New Zealands most important market, yet a great deal of it is relatively uninspiring, mass-produced Sauvignon Blanc destined for the supermarket. What Melanie has managed is to bring the upper-echelons of New Zealand wine, so rarely glimpsed outside its own shores, and served it in a brilliantly cool, fun environment. Ata Rangi Pinot Noir whilst you're listening to Reggae and enjoying a burger the size of your hand? Yes, please! Better yet, there's a lot of eclectic wines here that you won't find anywhere else, including aromatic grape varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Albariño, all of which are thriving in New Zealands cool, maritime climate. Another side to New Zealand and a completely different side to London! For more information, make sure to visit The New Zealand Cellar online.
67 Pall Mall
67 Pall Mall, London
Now, this is serious wine royalty, and not your typical wine bar by any stretch of the imagination. First and foremost, to get inside you either have to be a member yourself, or dining with an existing member. It's worth getting an invite though, as this is perhaps the single most impressive wine bar we've ever been inside, set inside a converted bank and a veritable wine lovers paradise. Their cellars hold an incredible 24,000 bottles, there's more wine by the glass than you could possibly ever hope to try and the food, whilst not the cheapest, is absolutely delicious and expertly prepared.
Our favourite thing about 67 Pall Mall, however, are the very fair wine prices. Wine mark-ups in London are notoriously high, and a bottle of wine that retails for £30 can easily become a £120 bottle of wine in a restaurant. In 67 Pall Mall, it's more likely to set you back £45, or, if you prefer, there's an across-the-board corkage fee of £20. It's hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a wine bar, and there's even plans to expand. We're not in London often enough to justify a membership but if we lived in the city, we suspect we wouldn't see outside of these walls very often! For more information, make sure to visit 67 Pall Mall online.
With a wine scene as demanding as London's, you better believe that there's an incredible selection of wine shops and merchants to delve into. With wines from all over the world available in London, it's often a question of specialising or standing out in some other way to make yourself noticed amongst the noise, and that's led to some of the most exciting retail outlets we've ever visited to buy a bottle of wine. There's still room for a well-ran classic wine shop as well, so long as the selection and service is at the top of its game!
266 Upper St, London
The Sampler is the sort of wine shop that every wine lover wished were in their city. Innovative and daring, this is a great example of how going the extra mile for your customers really pays dividends in the long run. Ran by Jamie and Dawn, it's a relatively simple idea pulled off magnificently; as well as being a top quality wine shop, at The Sampler you can....well.... sample! The shop is adorned with enomatic machines, that allow customers to try small quantities of wines, in a sort of try-before-you-buy scheme that's almost turned The Sampler into a wine bar of sorts.
Whilst some use it as an opportunity to taste broadly across the vast range of wines available at The Sampler, the real joy is certainly in trying wines that are priced into the stratosphere. Domaine Romanee-Conti? It's certainly not cheap, but if they load a bottle into the enomatic machines, we can guarantee it won't be there for long. The worlds most desirable names and producers, literally available at the click of a button. If you love it, grab a bottle and take it home! A brilliant concept, yet they're the only shop to ever pull it off properly. Kudos! For more information, make sure to visit The Sampler online.
Berry Brothers and Rudd
63 Pall Mall, St. James's, London
Stepping into the doors of Berry Brothers and Rudd is a little bit like going back in time, in the best possible way. Britain's oldest wine merchants, they've owned and ran their flagship store in St James since 1698, always with a view to the best service possible, and always with an eye on the future. Until recently, you never saw a bottle of wine in this iconic shop, you simply sat down and discussed your needs with the highly trained staff, who saw to it that you would get exactly what you were looking for. They boast 6 team members who are Masters of Wine, the highest of any store in Britain, and pride themselves on their incredible selection of 4,000 wines from across the world, specialising in the classics of France.
Don't be daunted when you step into the shop; despite the very high prices on some of the luxurious bottles they sell, Berry Brothers and Rudd are increasingly supplying some excellent quality wine at all price points. Better yet, they now keep at least 250 options in the shop itself for casual browsing, and the friendly staff are always happy to help. A venerable institution and one that has survived the winds of change more than a few times; customer service, a high quality selection and impeccable attention to detail has stood this family in good stead for over 300 years of trading! For more information, make sure to visit Berry Brothers and Rudd online.
3-7 Davies St, Mayfair
Hedonism Wine – the clue is very much in the name; pure, sensual indulgence! Welcome to Mayfair, home to surely London's most striking, unforgettable wine store. Opened by Evgeny Chichvarkin in 2012, it almost feels a little unfair to call this a wine shop, as wine temple is surely more fitting, with over 3,500 different wines to choose from, the vast majority of which are proudly displayed on their shelves. This isn't the sort of shop you'll find yourself running in to grab a bottle on the way home, as the prices start from £15 and soar into the stratosphere. As wine geeks, there's something quite giddy about standing in a store where an entire wall is dedicated to Chateau Yquem, where we can fondle a bottle of 1982 1st Growth Bordeaux (Don't drop it, whatever you do!) and sample some very special wines via enomatic machines.
It really isn't all just expensive wines and bling, however, and everytime we've been in, we've been treated with the same respect as the gentleman ahead of us, who was buying considerably more in terms of value. They have a broad selection of wines between £20 and £40, and cover more ground than perhaps any other wine store in London, including some real gems from Spain, Australia, Italy and Argentina, as well as the traditional classics. Take your time, wander around and enjoy the ambience, lifted by the excellent music selection played on vinyl. A luxurious experience indeed! For more information, be sure to visit Hedonism Wine online.
Lea and Sandeman
170 Fulham Road, London
Lea and Sandeman are a particularly smart wine merchant, with their flagship store located in Kensington, London. Not as traditional as Berry Brothers and Rudd, they still focus on the classics and have a particularly good selection of Burgundy and Italian wines; the latter is a big part of the reason we visit! The prices are very competitive and some of the best value for money we've found in London was within these 4 walls. Increasingly they're looking forward and slowly but surely adding some gems from the rest of the world to their enviable selection, including some lesser known wines from Argentina; we tried our first Argentinian Pinot Noir here!
Do be aware there are four stores to visit in total, although their original store on Fulham Road is our recommendation for a visit. The attentive staff will guide you through their selection, which focuses highly on wines that are ready to drink, and often wines that are particularly fun; there's no point-chasing here! If you do visit, be sure to bring your Lazenne Wine Check with you, as we suspect that your shopping cart might get full surprisingly quickly! For more information, be sure to visit Lea and Sandeman online.
The Wine Tasting Shop
18 Hildreth St, Balham, London
This is a shop particularly close to our hearts, and one of the hidden gems of London. Some of the best nights we've had in the city have taken place in this hidden, humble store in Balham, which has come to be something of a regular destination for us. Ran by the charismatic duo of Manu and Julia, the selection of smaller producers from around the world is really quite remarkable, and they have a brilliant selection of wines by the glass should you want to sit down, take your time and browse through their 400 strong selection, which we highly recommend!
In fact, it's as much of a wine tasting location as a shop, hence the name, and particularly on the weekend nights, it's one of London's undiscovered secrets. Live music, delicious tapas and the same wonderful selection, with the addition of a very reasonable corkage fee for anything you want to drink off the shelf, making it one of London's best value options for a wonderful night out as well! If you find yourself in London and want a more low-key, local experience full of excellent food and good wine, visit The Wine Tasting Shop in Balham. Make sure you leave yourself some time to pick up your bottles beforehand, as after a few glasses on a Friday night, it's easy to forget! For more information, be sure to visit The Wine Tasting Shop online.
Narrowing this down to 10 locations to drink and buy wine in London was supremely difficult, but these 10 businesses are at the peak of their powers, whether it be a veritable old wine merchant like Berry Brothers and Rudd, or the new-kid-on-the-block like 67 Pall Mall. London really is one of the worlds great destinations for wine-lovers and whilst vineyard visits are still not quite as glamorous as regions with a greater, local wine production (although watch this space – English sparkling wine is on its way!), there's no shortage of experiences for the wine lovers amongst you. The next time you find yourself in the city, remember this guide and go check out somewhere new; variety is the spice of life and there's so much wine to choose from, it'd be a shame not to. Happy drinking!
Once you've found the right wine and want to get it home safely, make sure you do it properly! Check out the information on our specially designed wine luggage below: