Looking for somewhere to sink some soave? Relish a riesling? Perk up with a port? Here's our handpicked selection of fantastic wine bars in London. Hic.
The wine bar that changed it all: Terroirs
Back in the old days when wine bars offered a choice between bordeaux and burgundy and possibly a dusty bottle of chianti or two, there was a company called Les Caves de Pyrene doing their best to change it all. Their head buyer/spirit animal Eric Narioo was traversing the forgotten regions of France buying wines made by the same people who tended the vines, and more often than not the wines were made with minimal intervention. They tasted thrillingly different.
Redolent of earth and herbs, occasionally cloudy and always exciting, Eric and Les Caves de Pyrene fired the starting shot that introduced natural wine and the increasingly informal wine bar culture of the new wave. Eric opened his own bistro and wine bar, Terroirs, just round the corner from Charing Cross station. It has a gloriously French food menu, so expect earthy boudin noir, lots of cheese and charcuterie and an enormous wine list that runs from everyday vin de soif up to the modern classics of the natural wine world.
Since opening the original Terroirs near Charing Cross, the Les Caves stable has grown to include a second Terroirs venue south of the river in East Dulwich, plus Soif in Battersea and Brawn on Columbia Road (now separated from the mother ship but still excellent). All will furnish you with superb wine.
The wine bar that made it cool: Sager + Wilde
Michael Sager and Charlotte Wilde took over a site on the Old Street roundabout, opening a few bottles and toasting a few cheese sandwiches. Their pop up soon morphed into Sager + Wilde on Hackney Road and suddenly there was a wine bar as cool as anything the cocktail world could concoct.
A wine-by-the-glass list that is as equally happy covering forgotten classics as it is with European avant garde, is matched by a cellar packed full of older vintages and the kind of bottles that are catnip to those with a wine habit.
Sager + Wilde soon grew again to include their larger site on Paradise Row in Bethnal Green where the food menu is bigger and more serious.
Sager + Wilde, Arch 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE and 193 Hackney Road, E2 8JL.
The wine bars you keep coming back to: Gordon's Wine Bar, The Arches, Le Beaujolais
Can you have a best wine bar list without Gordon's? Not likely. London's worst-kept secret is an invitation to dip your toe into another era, through a haze of dust-frosted gimcrack and beakers overspilling with sweet oloroso sherry. So what if every other tourist in town is here. So what if the monarchy-fawning press cuttings aren't to your leftist taste. The wine list — overseen by the great Gerard Menan — is accomplished, starring some surprising offerings from the likes of Lebanon and India (it's ever-changing too). The surroundings are as steeped in history as they are the intoxicated condensation of customers. The cheeseboard comes with great slabs of the stuff, heaped with relishes and pickles. That all this is moments from Trafalgar Square — and somehow affordable — can never be sniffed at.
Gordon's Wine Bar, 7 Villiers Street, Charing Cross, WC2N 6NE
Like Gordon's, The Arches in South Hampstead is the sort of cosy bolt hole you'd happily get stuck in during a zombie apocalypse. The atmosphere is almost villagey, live music is often played, and the knick-knack-cluttered shelves are stashed with plenty of good vintages, too. This is the kind of joint where they make a big deal out of beaujolais nouveau, but also occasionally crack open a bottle that's 100 years old.
The Arches, 7 Fairhazel Gardens, NW6 3QE
"A bastion of all that is French" is how Le Beaujolais describes itself, and indeed it's been run by French owners for nigh-on 50 years. Unsurprisingly, then, you can expect a slew of quaffables from across the regions —Rhone, Loire, Bourgon, Champagne. Don't ask for a Chilean malbec, basically. The cheese platters are good, if not as magnanimous as Gordon's, and the ties dangling from the ceiling suggest more than a few people have had an above-par night here before now.
Le Beaujolais, 25 Litchfield Street, WC2H 9NJ
The big boys move into London: New Street Wine Shop
It was surely only a matter of time before the big boys of the restaurant world took notice. Restaurant giants D&D opened New Street Wine Shop as part of their sprawling Old Bengal Warehouse site. It's an almost unmanageably huge selection of wines that covers nearly the entire globe, from the posher ends of bordeaux and burgundy through funky small growers in Australia. Despite being right in the heart of the City, it’s incredibly reasonably priced.
New Street Wine Shop, 16 New Street, EC2M 4TR
The white-hot wine bars: Noble Rot, The Remedy, Winemakers Club
Noble Rot (Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew) first shook up the London wine scene by creating a wine magazine that people actually wanted to both read and be seen reading. They built on their reputation for being on the pulse of international wine fashion by nabbing the chef from The Sportsman in Whitstable, to refurb one of the old guards of the London wine bar scene.
Expect a who's who of London glitterati and wine trade to be mingling over bottles of recherché grape varieties from the Jura and Northern Italy and bleedingly cool grower champagne. They then descend downstairs to tuck into slip sole with oxidised burgundy sauce.
Noble Rot, 51 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB
Smaller and more informal than Noble Rot, The Remedy has established Great Portland Street as a food and drink destination (something we didn’t think was possible). An ever-changing menu of food and wine, brilliant staff and a bafflingly good selection of vermouths have ensured that we’ve found ourselves in this part of London often.
The Remedy, 124 Cleveland Street, W1T 6PQ
Think of The Winemakers Club as the record shop that always had the coolest white labels. It's not the swishest of venues, indeed it can be occasionally a bit chilly and dark, but if you’re looking to stay in the know, John Baum and the rest of the team are usually several steps ahead of anyone else. As an aside, Winemakers Club also has some of the best value old bordeaux in London.
The Winemakers Club, 41a Farringdon Street, EC4A 4AN
Best wine bars beyond zone 1: 161 Food + Drink, Vindinista, Unwined in Tooting
Alex at 161 Food + Drink, formerly of Toast in East Dulwich, struck out on his own deeply philanthropic mission to bring excellent natural wine to the formerly ignored folk of Sydenham Hill and Forest Hill. They hold regular tastings and also have really good cake.
161 Food + Drink, 161 Kirkdale, SE26 4QJ
Hop on the Central line going west, stay on until it doesn’t go any further and you will find Vindinista. Yep, old school west London has joined the fun. Paola Tich of Park and Bridge wine shop opened Vindinista as a vibrant place to drink in Acton. With a wine list that’s as good as anywhere else in town, and picking up obscure Greek and Hungarian beauties along with a decent selection of natural and orange wines, it's a place we really love.
Vindinista, 74 Churchfield Road, W3 6DH
Proof that London now does well and truly unstuffy wine bars, Unwined is nestled between the fabric shops, record stores and noodle bars of the wonderful Tooting Market. Rest your bones with a quick glass of Pamela Geddes brut, or stick around for a cheese and wine pairing, suggested by the smiling staff.
Unwined in Tooting, Unit 16A, Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High Street, SW17 0SN