It’s an exciting time for wine lovers in London. Drinking culture in the capital has shifted: wine has become cool.
Gone are the days of directory-sized wine lists, haughty sommeliers and fusty cellars, the new breed of London wine bar is laidback, stripped down and unpretentious. Young Londoners are popping corks with abandon.
“Events such as the Wine Car Boot and Street Vin at Street Feast have broken down the barriers and brought wine to a younger audience”, says director of London Wine Week Emma Murphy, “wine has begun to take centre stage”.
Want to see what all the fuss is about? Here’s our pick of the best wine bars in London.
For a first date: Sager + Wilde
The owners of this hip corner bar are key drivers behind London’s wine scene. Husband and wife duo Charlotte and Michael began by running a pop-up in Shoreditch, offering incredible wines at tiny mark-ups, before moving to their permanent base in Hackney. Exposed walls, re-purposed station lights and a salvaged, glass-brick bar have transformed this former pub. The wine list changes daily, with a tendency towards the Old World. Much fuss is made about their grilled cheese sandwiches – but it’s their friendly attitude that really sets them apart.
Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Rd, E2 8JL
For the fashion conscious: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
Run by the same team as Soho’s opinion-dividing Experimental Cocktail Club, who are famous for their arbitrary door policy, this French import has bought a little bit of haughty Parisian attitude to Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard. Their aesthetic bucks the trend for minimalism: graphic print chaise lounges and velvet pouffes cluster around tiny coffee tables. Prices are high, but if you can identify their mystery £9-a-glass wine, there’s a free bottle for the taking. Snacks include a flowerpot filled with crudités and an edible soil made from ground biscuits, walnuts and coffee beans.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 8–10 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP
For foodies: 40 Maltby Street
Set in the railway-arch warehouse of importer Gergovie Wines, this innocuous bar has been raved about by the likes of Guardian critic Jay Rayner. Not that you’d guess it from the shabby-chic décor and wooden pallet tables. When it comes to wine, their objective is to let “the land and the grape speak”, and if you’re not au fait with natural wine, you might be in for some surprises. When hipsters descend on Maltby Street Market for their fix of Monmouth coffee and St John doughnuts at the weekend, expect to queue for a table.
40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
For a tasting session: 10 Cases Cave à Vin
The no-reservations Cave à Vin sits cheek-by-jowl with 10 Cases restaurant in Covent Garden. It’s somewhere between a bar and wine shop, offering their most popular wines by the glass and bottle or to take away. The small space is at its best in the evening, when you can settle in at one of their ten or so candlelit tables, order a plate of charcuterie and work your way through the day’s selection.
10 Cases Cave à Vin,16 Endell St, WC2H 9BD
For a pre-theatre drink: Bedford & Strand
At this much-loved subterranean wine bar they tell it like it is. “Reliable” wines include dependable classics like Vin Pay’s d’Oc Sauvignon, while more of a splurge pushes you into “good” – old vine Californian Zinfandel and the like. Spindle-backed chairs, chequerboard tiling and a menu of bistro classics give the place a thoroughly French feel: it’s hard to believe you’re just a stumble from the West End. Head down an inconspicuous staircase on Bedford Street to find the entrance.
Bedford & Strand, 1A Bedford St, WC2E 9HH
For dinner with friends: Toast(ED)
Toast or Toasted, no one can quite agree, but there’s no debate as to whether this wine bar, restaurant and shop is worth the schlep out south to East Dulwich. Their ballsy, distinctive wines will be a revelation for the uninitiated. Sparkling reds, unusual sweets and cloudy-orange natural wines: you’ll find them all here. Exciting small plates such as raw grey mullet or sourdough beignets are dreamt-up daily to accompany the booze.
Toast(ed), 36 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HJ
For adventurous palates: Vivat Bacchus
You can’t fault Vivat Bacchus’s motto. Life is too short to drink bad wine. With bars on either side of the City in Clerkenwell and Southwark, this South African-run mini-chain once made a name for themselves hawking £1000 tasting menus to bankers, but have thankfully since reassessed their strategy. Though the décor’s not much to write home about, the new-world wine list and unusual menu (expect zebra and springbok) make it worth seeking out.
Vivat Bacchus, 47 Farringdon St, EC4A 4LL and 4 Hays Lane, SE1 2HB
For a meeting: 28°–50°
This “wine workshop” mini-chain is expanding apace. Created by Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson – the duo behind the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, Texture – this place has the smarter end of the market sewn up. Filament light bulbs, wrap-around bars and exposed brickwork typify their sleek, industrial vibe. The wine list is highly curated, with just fifteen reds and fifteen whites available by the glass, carafe or bottle at one time. The selection might range from a heavy, tannic Madiran to Spain’s rising star, the aromatic Albariño.
28o–50o, 15–17 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NE; 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT; 17–19 Maddox Street W1S 2QH
For lunch: Vinoteca
Since opening their first branch in 2005, Vinoteca has expanded to four locations across the capital. These airy, accessible bars have a legion of fans and are just as welcoming during the day as after sundown. They’re known for tackling established wine wisdom, offering prosecco on tap and ten-litre “bag in a box” wines that are bottled on site. Above all, they pride themselves on offering “small production wines with huge character [and] real drinkability”.
Vinoteca, 7t John Street, EC1M 4AA; 15 Seymour Place, W1H 5BD; 53–55 Beak St, W1F 9SH; 18 Devonshire Road, W4 2HD
For Francophiles: Terroirs
Terroirs is a little more grown up than some of the bars on this list, popular with a slightly older clientele. Stick to the ground floor, where the focus is on the wine rather than the food. As their moniker suggests, they try to find “wines that encapsulate the notion of terroir”, so expect to find plenty of natural and biodynamic bottles on the list. It’s the kind of place you can wash down a cracking white Burgundy with French bread, tartiflette and crème brûlée.
Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW
For a break from the shops: Antidote
Tucked just south of Oxford Street lies this little wine bar and restaurant, where organic wines and interesting small plates make the perfect pit-stop. Come early in the evening to bag one of the downstairs bar tables, or book in advance to splash out on a full meal in the main restaurant upstairs. Not sure what to try? You can’t go wrong with a selection from their cheese and charcuterie menu.
Antidote, 12A Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RR