Traveler’s Guide To Exploring London’s Wine Scene
Writing a ten-piece guide to some of London’s best wine bars and restaurants is a bit like compiling a short mixtape of the world’s greatest love songs: you have a huge amount of choices, and ultimately the list ends up being somewhat personal.
What follows is a guide for the traveler. That is, it’s a list for visitors or locals who want to sample the vast range of wine spots that the city has to offer, and who are adventurous enough to move from high end, to funky and natural. You’ll even get to have a drink in a shipping container.
Diversity is London’s best asset. That’s as true of its wine scene as it is of anything else.
Just as a devotee to the classics couldn’t leave Whitney Houston off her romantic mixtape, I couldn’t open a wine guide to London without talking about Noble Rot. This wine bar and restaurant opened in 2015 and was met with almost immediate media fanfare, wine trade excitement, and later, several awards.
And deservedly so: it’s excellent. Its wine list might be impossibly hard to choose from (there are too many delicious and well-priced options), and the food menu might leave you torn (ditto), but its team are very helpful, and fortunately, decisive.
Noble Rot is open for dinner and/or drinks. Reservations are recommended for its restaurant, but space in the bar area is available on a first-come first-serve basis.
Find it between the Russel Square, Holborn and Chancery Lane tube stations.
Noble Rot Wine Bar & Restaurant, (http://noblerot.co.uk), 51 Lamb’s Conduit, WC1N 3NB. +44 (0) 20 7242 8963
Gordon’s Wine Bar
London’s oldest wine bar is also one of its busiest. Inside, it’s like a cross between a cave and a museum of historic wine memorabilia. Old posters and pictures are pinned to its dark wooden walls. Punters crouch to walk around its old cellar area. Outside, tables line a long, narrow lane.
Don’t expect old Bordeaux and Riedel glasses. Do expect affordable bottles, a lively atmosphere, and an excellent selection of cheese and chutney that make it popular with the after-work crowd. Gordon’s is fun. It’s good at that.
Only “the cage” old cellar, which seats 8-10, is available for bookings. Otherwise, arrive when you can and hope for the best. There’s always somewhere to lean or a table outside.
Find it next to Embankment station.
Gordon’s Wine Bar, (https://gordonswinebar.com) 47 Villiers St, WC2N 6NE
Terroirs literally has Cabernet Franc on tap, and that’s not the only great thing about it. Its wine list is creative, all of its wines are “natural,” and many are available by the glass. The artwork has attitude. (Think “terroirist” posters and 60s-inspired pin-up wine girls.)
Its large bar has plenty of high seats, or there are regular tables for enjoying wine and/or dinner.
So Terroirs is the funky one. Or, if you’re already a big natural wine drinker, it’s just…the one. Orange wine from a New Zealand field blend, anyone?
Find it near Charing Cross station. It also has a second venue out in East Dulwich.
Terroirs, (https://www.terroirswinebar.com), 5 William IV St, WC2N 4DN
Vagabond is king of the enomatic wine machines, which allow you to self-serve tasting samples using a card that you can top up at the bar.
At the time of writing, it has six bars across London. These vary in size but share the same laid-back and modern character. The Battersea branch, which is in the newly developed Battersea Power Station area close to the US embassy, also has its own urban winery.
Locations: Paddington, Fulham, Battersea Power Station, Victoria (this one is large), Northcote Road, Charlotte Street. Canary Wharf — according to its website — is coming soon.
The New Zealand Cellar
You’ve always dreamed of drinking great New Zealand wine in a shipping container, right? Good: Brixton is home to just the place. The New Zealand Cellar has the best selection of Kiwi pours in town by the glass or bottle, to drink in or take away.
Conveniently, its neighbors include a number of food containers that serve up tasty take-away bites that you can bring back and enjoy with the wine. Nearby Brixton Village also has various ethnic restaurants that allow you to bring along your own bottle.
Find it near Brixton station.
The New Zealand Cellar, (https://thenewzealandcellar.co.uk) 49 Brixton Station Rd, SW9 8PQ
Sagar + Wilde Paradise Row
Sagar + Wilde quickly rose to fame in 2013 after opening its Hackney wine bar, which was praised for its diverse list and moderate mark-ups.
If you’re in central London, its newer venue on Paradise Row is easier to reach. This restaurant and wine bar is set in an old railway arch. It too has a wide range of interesting wines available by the glass or bottle, plus an Italian-inspired food menu. Enjoy the courtyard area in the summer months (or with a jacket).
Find it near Bethnal Green station.
Sagar + Wilde Paradise Row, (https://www.sagerandwilde.com/paradise-row), Arch, 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE
If you’re in the mood for a bottle of Chateau Margaux or Pavillon Rouge direct from the estate, you have a full page of vintages to choose from at Clarette. It was founded by the Chateau owner’s youngest daughter. If that’s a little above your price range (and I’m totally with you), there are plenty of other classic options on the list in this stylish Marylebone bar.
Find it between Bond Street and Baker Street stations.
Clarette, (http://clarettelondon.com), 44 Blandford St, W1U 7HS
Cork & Bottle
Leicester Square is frantic. Several of its surrounding bars spill out noisily onto the street, so it would be easy to walk past Cork & Bottle, which you reach through a small shop front between two theatre ticket stores, and down a set of spiral steps.
Downstairs, it’s full of wooden dining (or drinking) tables and its walls are covered in old wine posters and pictures. The wine list stretches across 35 pages and the cheese counter provides a constant temptation. As well as wine, it serves classic British dishes, including several vegetarian and two vegan options.
Find it near Leicester Square station. It also has branches in Paddington and Hampstead Heath.
Cork and Bottle (https://www.thecorkandbottle.co.uk), 44-46 Cranbourn St, WC2H 7AN
It’s worth taking the Northern Line down to Tooting, not for sightseeing, but for the best selection of Indian curry houses in the city. Many of them allow you to bring along your own bottle of wine, which is one good reason to stop by Unwined beforehand.
You’ll then surely choose to return after to this laid-back bar in Tooting Market, which has a creative and frequently changing selection of wines by the glass, too.
Find it near Tooting Broadway station. For those less willing to travel from central London, it also has a branch in a Waterloo shipping container.
Unwined, (https://www.unwinedbars.co.uk) Unit 16A, Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High St, SW17 0SN
The Wine Tasting Shop
Balham locals love The Wine Tasting Shop, which, as the name suggests, doubles up as well-stocked wine store and bar. Seating spills way out onto the street, but if you’re visiting at the weekend, best to sit inside and enjoy the live music. Themed tastings are hosted on Thursdays – you can book in advance.
Find it near Balham station.
The Wine Tasting Shop (https://thewinetastingshop.co.uk) 18 Hildreth St, SW12 9R