Looking for somewhere special to wet your whistle? Fancy a brush with London’s grape-based history? Allow us to lead you on a oenophile’s odyssey through the city, during which you’ll encounter everything from uncorked bottles that have been gathering dust for literal centuries to wine being made right here, right now, in the capital.
Hailed as the birthplace of EastEnders, a visit to Albert Square’s namesake should be a rite of passage for soap opera addicts. Back in the 1980s, writers from the nearby BBC Television Centre came up with the show’s first script in this Shepherd’s Bush wine bar. So go ahead and sink your Soave while soaking up a piece of British TV history — though, whatever your telly tastes, a chic ambience and an impressive wine list makes Albertine absolutely worth a visit.
Berry Bros. & Rudd
A secret passage once linked the cellars of London’s oldest wine shop and St James’s Palace to facilitate the philanderous escapades of merry monarch Charles II — or so the legend goes. Whatever tunnels once existed are sadly long sealed up (if they existed at all), but there’s still plenty to discover in Berry Bros. & Rudd’s West End premises, which date back to 1689. Feast your eyes on bottles that are older than Big Ben and admire a set of scales that once bore the weight of none other than Lord Byron, one of the shop’s most illustrious patrons.
Forty Hall Vineyard
This Enfield-based organic vineyard covers 10 acres. It launched in 2015, and has sold London's first homegrown sparkling wine for centuries, coming from the first commercial-scale vineyard in the capital since the Middle Ages. It operates as a social enterprise, and uses modern equipment but traditional methods to get the best tastes out of the grapes. Regular events and tastings take place at the vineyard, and if you like what you try, browse the online shop to keep stocked up.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Blink and you’ll miss this cavernous cellar bar as you’re spat out of Embankment station and amble up towards Charing Cross. Established in 1890, Gordon’s is thought to London’s oldest wine bar and it’s suitably dripping in atmosphere. Inside, it’s pure Dickensian drama — ancient bottles shrouded in dust, rickety wooden tables, and candlelight dancing on the craggy, cave-like walls of the old stone vaults. If that’s not enticing enough, both Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling once called the Villiers Street building home.
Hampton Court Palace
If you’re feeling extra-decadent, go west for a weekend visit to Henry VIII’s palatial playground of pleasures. In the heart of Hampton Court Palace’s Base Court, you’ll find a working replica of a Tudor wine fountain. That’s right: your bog-standard water fountain wasn’t quite enough for 16th century royalty, so this booze-dispensing bronze and gold leaf creation was installed instead. Not all heroes wear capes (then again, these ones might have).
But that’s not all: wander into the gardens and find The Great Vine. With its longest rod stretching 120 feet, the 250-year-old plant is the world’s largest grape vine and on average yields a 600lb crop of fruit.
Harrods Fine Wine and Spirits Rooms
Inside the luxury department store’s famous Food Halls, you’ll find a glorious set of 1920s-style rooms dedicated solely to booze. Finished with a shimmering marble floor and limed-oak panelling, it’s the kind of full-bodied opulence you’d expect from Harrods. But there’s more to the experience than Instagrammable interiors. Watch live streams from vineyards across the globe, explore the character of different grapes at the multi-sensory aroma tables, an even get your bottle of choice engraved.
The capital’s first ever winery popped up in an unassuming West Brompton warehouse back in 2013. For all of London’s charms, the city isn’t exactly renowned for its fertile climate, so London Cru mercifully uses grapes from a hand-picked selection of European vineyards to concoct its award-winning small batch wines. Find them in handful of Michelin-star restaurants, or book a tasting tour of the winery itself.
London Silver Vaults
Beautiful wine deserves to be decanted into equally ravishing receptacles. The treasures housed in the London Silver Vaults may be a little out of the average drinker’s price range, but the intricate Victorian claret jugs and antique bottle-stoppers will definitely inspire you to up your wine-ware game.
The minds behind massively popular alternative wine magazine Noble Rot launched their own wine bar and restaurant in 2015, and happily, it’s stayed true to the publication’s philosophy of making the world of wine accessible and fun. The drinks list is truly a thing of beauty: heavy on the unjustly undervalued varietals and rare vintages and scribbled with irreverent tasting notes for anyone who might feel a bit out of their depth. The food wins rave reviews, too.
Renegade Wine London
Squeeze past a towering display of secondhand furniture in a narrow alley under Bethnal Green’s old railway arches, and you’ll find an achingly-hip independent urban winery. True to its name, Renegade isn’t beholden to European appellation dogma, and instead makes unusual, minimally-manipulated wines for you to quaff at your leisure in the onsite taproom. Sure, thanks to your proximity to fermenting fruit you may have to swat away the odd fly in the summertime — but their characterful libations and undeniable street cred more than makes up for it.
Rex Whistler Restaurant
The Tate Britain's restaurant was deemed the ‘most amusing room in Europe’ due to the unapologetically whimsical mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, by the restaurant's namesake. But it's equally renowned for its incredible wine cellar. After a day spent wandering the galleries, shoot sommelier extraordinaire Gustavo Medina an email: he’ll happily decant the liquid ambrosia of your choice prior to your arrival so it gets plenty of time to breathe.
St. Pancras Champagne Bar
Got time to kill before your train? Sip in style at the longest champagne bar in Europe. Located in the beating heart of St Pancras International station, Searcy’s Art Deco banquette even comes with a ‘press for champagne’ button to ensure your flute is always full.
Ponder upon the art of inebriation at the Tate Modern. Gilbert and George’s Balls: The Evening Before The Morning After is a ‘living sculpture’ comprised of photographs taken at the now-defunct Balls Brothers Wine Bar in Bethnal Green, the artists’ local drinking den.
Terroirs Wine Bar
Often credited with spearheading London’s natural wine scene, this popular bistro’s earthy and herbaceous libations are about as far as you can get from your average bottle of supermarket plonk. Rooted in the philosophy that a wine should embody the natural environment within which it was created — hence the name — tantalising tastes of the Loire Valley, Alicante, and the Tuscan coast await you inside.
This sumptuous Baroque building on Upper Thames Street has been used by The Worshipful Company of Vintners since 1823, though members of this ancient livery company have congregated on the same site since the 14th century. Nowadays, you can book it for everything from wine tastings to your wedding reception.
A version of this article appears in Londonist Drinks, our book about pubs, bars and the history of drinking in the capital. (buying via this link will help support our site with a small commission)