London Top-3 Wine Shops

Well hello London! We meet again. Yesterday I stepped of the plane at Heathrow airport to a welcoming 18 degrees (C) and could feel I had come home. My days of actually living in London were short(ish), only one and a half years, but it always feels like the place I am supposed to be. This trip is going to be brief. We are here for two reasons; the main being a visit to London Cru, an urban winery in the heart of the city (Fullham), and the second being food. The rest of the trip, we intend on eating and drinking at nice restaurants. You might call it market research, but I would be lying if I would say it is not enjoyable. Who said work always needs to be boring.

Enough with the babbling. To celebrate my brief return to London, I thought I would bring back a list of my favorite wine-shops and hangouts in the city:

1. A trip to London would not be complete without a pop into the Sampler (the South-Kensington branch), one of the best wine-shops in town. Even if I am not buying, I love that they have a wide range of wines in the sampling machines as well as some sparklings by the glass. One can just pour a small taster into a Riedel Vinum and walk around the shop (or stand by the Champagne shelf drooling as I do it). Click here for a complete review of the Sampler from January.

2. The Winery is a small piece of Germany located close to Warwick Avenue tube. The shop houses a wonderful selection of mainly German, Austrian and French wines. If you are a friend of Pinot, this is the shop to come to for some interesting German Spätburgunder. We also found some wonderful Marie Noelle Ledru Champagne here the last time we visited. Her wines are only available in London through the Winery. Here is a full review of the Winery from January.

3. Our newest find is Vagabond wines. It is a fairly similar to the Sampler, a wine shop and sampling house. Vagabond is perhaps one step more towards being a bar than a shop and is quite crowded with afterworkers in the evening. The selection is also slightly heavier on Spain and new world wines while the sampler houses one of the best champagne selections in the city (grower champagnes I might add). Vagabond also has a nice amount of sampling machines for trying out different wines as well as wines by the glass. What I particularly enjoyed was their charcuterie board that could be ordered as a companion for the wines. Here is a post about Vagabond from our last trip in January.

There are many more shops that I like visiting, but these are my absolute favorite ones. Perhaps it is because you can have a glass of wine while shopping. All in all, I love the variety of shops in London and wish we could have such a selection in Stockholm. Perhaps some day…one can always dream.

Sipping wine at Charlotte Street

To balance out the lack of wine here in Asia, I have saved up a few (more like twenty) reviews on some wine action from our trip to London over New Year. Today I thought I would write about a new acquaintance, Vagabond Wines. Its a lovely mix of a wine store and bar. I just love the concept. It’s a place where you can go hang out, talk wine, and browse around sipping wine from their numerous tasting machines. This is the type of place I miss having in the Nordic monopoly-countries.

Vagabond has two locations, this review is about their second location on good old Charlotte Street (my star restaurant Bubbledogs is also there). The first one is in Fulham. This location has more of bar feel to it but they also have an extensive selection of wines to buy of the shelf. However, if you wish to browse for wines to buy with you to take home, it may be best to do this before the evening crowd wonders in. The selection is fairly broad both from traditional Europe and New world, especially the US. They have good descriptions for each wine making it easy to pick out something you like. The tasting machines also makes it possible for them to have some rare wines available for retail, as one can have a small sip before making the purchase decision.

The shop has seating on two floors (entrance and the basement). The entrance level is a bit nicer but can also get chaotic on a Friday afternoon and evening. They accept reservations so that’s probably a smart move if you want to be guaranteed a seat after 6pm, especially Thursday-Saturday. You can buy wine at the bar both by the glass (bubbly) and also via the sampling machines. To use the machines you load money onto a card. The card is then inserted into a machine and with a press a button you select which wine and size of glass you want to sample (three options from a small sip to a full glass of wine). The small tasters start at around £0.6 (and go up-to around £4) and the glasses of wine start at around £4 and then go upwards. All the bottles they have for retail sales can also be enjoyed in the bar for a small £10 corkage fee. They also have nibbles and shared platters of cheese and cold cuts. We tried the charcuterie board and I must say it was delicious. A perfect snack to fend of the hunger before heading for a late dinner. It was plenty of food for two to share, and made it possible for us to skip starters for dinner.

There are a lot of nice wine shops and bars in London, but the staff is often what makes a difference for me. At Vagabond they are friendly and really knowledgeable, we could have stayed for hours just chatting about wine. My recommendation is to stop by during the slower part of the day to have more of in-depth discussions on wine as the evenings tend to be a bit too busy for that.

The reason I do not give it a 5 is the price level. It’s a bit steep on some of the wines (saw a Gramona Allegro Cava for £20 and that is below €10 in Spain (and even in Sweden or Finland where the alcohol tax is notoriously high and the price level generally higher it would be cheaper). This may not be the fault of Vagabond, but rather the importer or how Gramona want’s to position themselves on the market, who knows. The atmosphere is however great and they do have other interesting wines: a house Champagne (did not try that one) and a very nice Franciacorta by the glass. So I am 100% sure I will be back. For anyone around Charlotte Street (Tottenham Court Road) in the mood for a glass of wine Vagabond is a great option. It may also be nice place to hang out while waiting for a spot at Bubbledogs.