Fortnum & Mason is truly one if the iconic stores in London. They are perhaps most known for their teas and biscuits, but amongst the usual department store selection, they have a nice food hall and wine department on the lower ground floor. The atmosphere and look of their flagship store on London’s Piccadilly is really nice, so worth a visit even if you are not in the mood to buy anything (you may however be after you see their Champagne shelf). There is also a wine bar in connection to the wine department, so if you get really thirsty, relief is only a few steps away.
The food part is made up of numerous counters for cheese, charcuteries, meat, fish etc. It all looks very nice and the staff are knowledgable. However the price quality ratio is perhaps not wallet friendly so one ends up paying extra for the shopping experience. I would much rather shop at the local butcher or for example at Maltby Street Market and get a more genuine experience and better prices (and potentially better quality as well). Still if you want to get in the mood for food this is a good place to visit.
The wine store is not huge but they do carry a fairly impressive range if wine (a bit over 1000 different ones) and prices are surprisingly reasonable. The selection is heavy on wines from France, so as to be expected, Champagne takes probably a fourth of the floor space (not complaining).
Still it somehow fails to excite me as the selection is quite “main stream”. A bit like Hedonism wines (review here), they focus on big brands and also their private label wines. For those of you who are not familiar with the term private label it is the stores own branded products produced by another producer but sold under the store name (in this case Fortnum & Mason). The UK market is extremely developed when it comes to private label food and beverages, so it is no surprise that there is also a lot of private label wine.
I am not always the biggest fan of private label Champagnes, but one can make quite interesting finds in that category. The producer of the wine is always displayed on the label, so I go around peaking at who is responsible for the quality. The producer of the F&M Rose is Billegart-Salmon (love their non-vintage rose), the Blanc de Noirs is made by Déthune and the Blanc de Blancs by Laurent Hostomme. They also have a new private label Franciacorta! The look of the bottles is quite stylish and they do a lot of cute packaging. I love their coolers with baby blanc de blancs, perfect for a summer picnic (for people who do not want to share). The prices are very reasonable ranging from £29,50 for the blanc de blancs to £35 for the Rose and £49,50 for the Blanc de Noirs.
On our last trip (over new year), we had already stocked up on so many wines, that we decided to leave the Fortnum & Mason stuff behind, but definitely on one of our next trips we will be looking at bringing back some of the private label Champagnes for a tasting. I also saw Selfridges doing an interesting private label bubbly produced by Henri Giraud (brut £29,99 and rose £37,99) and someone also had a champagne by Delamotte. Even an iconic wine merchant like Berry Bros and Rudd do their own private label wine these days. I am not always convinced that the private label stuff comes from the same batches as the producers own branded products (I really have no idea), but at least there is real knowledge behind making the wines. And who knows, maybe you can make a real bargain.