Where to buy wine in London
Look beyond the supermarkets and delve deeper into London's wealth of wine sellers
Fri Jan 24 2014
Forget unadventurous supermarket plonk – London‘s independent wine shops stock some truly exceptional bottles. Time Out rounds up the best outlets.
Douglas Blyde, spokesperson: 'The Cartwrights were established importers of St-Emilion’s fine wines; the Harrisons imported wine and speciality food from France’s south-west. The families were rival stallholders in Borough Market until they reconciled their differences by opening Bedales together four years ago. But Bedales isn’t just about France: our best-selling house white wine by the glass at our Spitalfields store is English and we stock a Soave made by the father of one of our employees, among many others. As well as trying to encourage diversity in what the customer takes home, we offer a fixed £8 mark-up on any bottle drunk on our premises.’
- 5 Bedale Street, SE1 9AL
Trading from the same location for more than 300 years, with a magnificent Georgian cellar, Berry is historic yet keeps up with the times. Burgundy and claret lovers will drool at the hundreds of wines, but there are also decent (if smaller) selections from elsewhere in France, as well as Italy, Germany and the New World. The company’s own-label wines are top-notch. Great website too.
- 3 St James's Street, SW1A 1EG
Phil Crozier, wine buyer: ‘I took the decision to make the Gaucho list exclusively Argentinian in 2000; before that there weren’t enough good ones but there’s been so much investment there, and the price-to-quality ratio is fantastic. People are much better educated now: they’ll come in and ask for Malbec and they know it goes brilliantly with steak, so I try to give them something special, like this Opalo (Mauricio Lorca ‘Opalo’ Malbec 2008/09, £20.35), which is grown in an area famous for roses and is incredibly floral and perfumed. It has no oak, and tastes like putting a bunch of malbec grapes straight into your mouth. Argentina is all about high vineyards and this torrontés (Colomé Torrontés 2010/11, £13.50) was made in Salta, which has the highest vineyards in the world. Almost none of our wines are available for retail elsewhere – I don’t want crossover with the supermarkets. We’re a very niche market, so we can put ultra-premium wines on the list and they sell.’
- 25 Swallow St, W1B 4DJ
The television with the sound turned down, the red-and-white sign outside boasting wines from ‘Spain, Portugal, France, Germany’, the knowledgeable, softly spoken staff – everything about this wine bar (‘est. 1879’) is discreet and old-school. A library hush reigns within the dark-wood surrounds, as a professional, middle-aged and mainly male clientele – no journos these days, chiz chiz – quaff well-chosen wines from a 200-strong list that features many lesser-known producers: a 2008 Viu Manent cabernet sauvignon, for example. The enterprise also operates as a wine shop and runs a delivery service.
- 47 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1BJ
Friarwood has dozens of clarets on its list, including some less well-known petits châteaux – the best value for those of (relatively) modest means. The shop also makes decent efforts in the direction of Italy, the Rhône and Languedoc, and there are some New World wines in the mix too. If money’s no object, check out the Armagnac vintages on offer.
- 26 New King's Rd, SW6 4ST
Handford isn’t the cheapest merchant in town, selling very little under £7, but it’s certainly one of the best when bottle prices climb into double digits. France is king here, with a strong showing not just from Burgundy and Bordeaux but also Alsace and the Rhône; there is a strong range of Italian and Spanish wines, too. Of the New World countries, South Africa is the best represented. Also check out the small but tasty selection of Madeiras.
- 105 Old Brompton Rd, SW7 3LE
HH&C is best known as a Burgundy specialist, though staff pride themselves on running a local shop where regulars pop in for everyday bottles – in addition to costly rarities, there's ample choice under £8. Knowledgeable, helpful staff ensure you don't feel intimidated despite the ritzy neighbourhood.
- 7 Elystan St, SW3 3NT
Hedonism is the ultimate in wine indulgence – two floors of the most covetable, most sought-after, and most expensive wines on the planet. The staff are very helpful, and you can try some of the fabulous wines served in tiny measures (for a small fee, of course). If you can’t afford a whole bottle of any of the big hitters, then there are also a few bottles for under £30. There is also a second branch now on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, which has cheese and ham platters too.
- 3-7 Davies St, W1K 3LD
Jonathan Wren, retail director: ‘Some people always buy the same wine; we encourage staff to say “This is fantastic, in the same price range, why not try it?” Our strength is Old World wine and we go for high-quality, small-production wines. We also ship some wines, which means we get the pick. I like to stock wines you can drink young, like those from Priorat in Spain – they’re so elegant. A good-quality young wine is better than a mediocre one that’s fully mature.’
- 6 Pont St, SW1X 9EL
Patrick Sandeman, joint owner: ‘We stock New World wines but the Old World is our speciality. France is our biggest seller but we’ve been moving towards Italy in the past decade and lately towards Spain because I feel the most extraordinary winemaking in Europe is happening there. France is so constrained by legislation, winemakers can’t do their own thing and won’t work together so they’re falling behind. In Italy, and now Spain, winemakers have studied abroad and they’ve got great ideas, great technique – and great terroir. We look for individuality, character and integrity; take this Acustic (Vinyes Velles Nobles 2005 Bodegas Acustic, £11.95), from Montsant, a small area next to Priorat that makes delicious wines but doesn’t charge as much for them. Or this Tuscan wine (Tassinaia 2004 Castello del Terriccio, £22.95), which speaks of Italy’s west coast. Every country makes dull wines but there are always exceptions; we’re just trying to find those exceptions.’
- 170 Fulham Road, SW10 9PR
The pun-lover’s favourite wine shop, now well into its second decade, has repeatedly been named Best London Wine Shop by the International Wine Challenge. It’s not hard to see why: its list is exceptional. Fans of French, Italian and Australian wines fare best, but all the bottles here are chosen with care. Specialising in smaller producers, P&S unfailingly hits on prime producers even in areas, such as Rioja and Chianti, where it’s easy to spend too much and get too little.
- 21 Northcote Rd, SW11 1NG
A small shop in Holborn, packed with wines from all over the world, and unashamedly aiming for the £10-£15-a-bottle drinker, although they do stock the cheaper end – and of course, zoom up to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Supertuscans and other top-end wines. Owners Matt Harris and Marc Wise also run two wine bars, in Leadenhall Market and Bow Lane, where wines can be bought off-trade or drunk in-house for a flat-rate corkage.
- 9 New Oxford St, WC1A 1BA
This spacious shop has been providing well-heeled Kensingtonians with wine since 1991. It’s clear that Kensington loves France because the country dominates the list, with extensive offerings from Bordeaux and ample choice in Burgundy. And even if other regions and countries are represented in lesser quantities, they are in no way of lesser quality. A fine merchant.
- 348 Kensington High Street, W14 8NS
- Critics choice
Jamie Hutchinson, joint owner: ‘In Tuscany, we spotted the Enomatic machines [which allow opened wines to stay fresh for several weeks, enabling the shop to offer small samples cheaply] and thought: What a great idea. People can try ten interesting wines and hopefully they’ll like a couple. We carry about 40 Champagnes, all by small growers who spend their money on wine, not marketing. Chapelle (Clos de la Chapelle Instinct Brut Champagne 1er Cru, £21.60) is a premier cru, but it’s cheaper than the famous ones. Independent merchants aren’t more expensive. We are immensely proud of our wines, which we take great effort sourcing. We’re blessed in this country, we’ve got more variety of wine available than anywhere else because we don’t make much of our own.’
- 266 Upper St, N1 2UQ
Daniel Illsley, owner: ‘I was an actor, became disenchanted and started working in a wine shop, and wine just jumped up and seduced me. I’m interested in people with understated personalities making extraordinary wines, rather than egotists making unexceptional wines. I opened this shop because I felt people deserved better choices – there’s so much wine they don’t get to try. And wine is so wonderful. Everything – from geology and history to landscape and personalities – has wine running through it.’
- 75 Trafalgar Road, SE10 9TS
Daniel Thorold runs this small but excellent off-licence in a Tooting Bec/Balham side street. The wine selection starts around the £6 mark, wiith plenty of choice below – and over – £10. The wines are arranged by price, not by style, and you are guaranteed some interesting producers and styles. Although not a 'natural wine' true believer, he does stock a few very palatable natural wines from France amid his diverse collection.
- 22 Ritherdon Rd, SW17 8QD
There’s no doubting the commitment to quality here, but it comes at a price. At Uncorked, the prevailing assumption is that its customers have plenty of money. Reassuringly, though, even the cheapest wines are excellent of their type; it’s hard to spot a duff producer in the whole list. France is the focus, with great offerings from the Rhône as well as Bordeaux and Burgundy; Italy is well represented, too. The New World selection is mostly an afterthought, although California is represented by many of its finest vineyards.
- Exchange Arcade, Broadgate, EC2M 3WA
Opened in March 2011, this Balham wine spot champions the try-before-you-buy style of wine shopping. A £5 loyalty card gets you ten samples and most bottles to purchase start around the £10 mark. The shop’s owner Julia Michael is just as fizzy as some of the wines.
- 18 Hildreth St, SW12 9RQ
The Winery’s list is a real pleasure. It avoids big brands, emphasising individuality: even the Champagne list is dominated by small growers. What’s more, it specialises in German wine, an area that’s fallen out of favour with many drinkers. Burgundy is another major strength. The formula clearly works – this place is a local institution.
- 4 Clifton Rd, W9 1SS
Well established as one of London’s best wine merchants, Wimbledon has shops in Wimbledon and Chelsea. One of its many virtues is a commitment to sensible value: you can do well here with less than a tenner, although wines from the pricier parts of the world are stocked. The shops specialise in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italy, although the New World is also represented.
- 4 The Boulevard, Imperial Wharf, SW6 2UB
A small, enterprising list (with excellent wines from France and Spain especially), plus a huge range of vintage Armagnacs from a single producer. Established in 2003, this Archway shop specialises in natural and organic wines from Europe. It also has some unusual spirits (Japanese whiskey, Hungarian Unicum) and foodstuffs.
- 216 Archway Rd, N6 5AX