Bottle Apostle has three branches, the first in Victoria Park, the second in Crouch End, and the most recent in Clapham’s Abbeville Road. An independent wine merchant, it offers 16 rotating tasting samples from an Enomatic wine preservation system, plus 450 wines in total with an emphasis on Italy and Portugal, in-store tutored tastings, and a good selection of craft brews and ciders.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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