Jonathan Ray picks out ten of the best wine lists in town
The Chancellor is such a fool. If anything is going to drive us to drink it’s the soaring cost of wine, beer and spirits. Are these muddle-headed puritans going to tax or prohibit every single one of our simple pleasures? There will soon be some diktat on dining out.
Restaurateurs are notoriously grasping when it comes to mark-ups on wine, although there are honourable exceptions. I just wish more sold wine by the glass; not so I can drink less, but so I can drink more, enjoying a greater variety of tastes while also making the Chancellor even richer.
London is blessed with great restaurants, with the likes of Pétrus, Le Gavroche, The Square and Chez Bruce rightly famous for their wine lists. Here is my current top ten.
Roussillon, 16 St Barnabas Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7730 5550
Tucked away in a Pimlico backstreet is this gem, where chef-patron Alexis Gauthier and head chef Gerard Virolle wield mean skillets indeed and sommelier Robert Della Pietra oversees a brilliantly sourced — if a trifle expensive — wine list. Naturally, the wines of Languedoc, Roussillon and the Rhône are well represented, but so too are less well-known regions: look out for the 2003 Domaine de Torraccia, a belter of a red from Corsica for £36.
Clos Maggiore, 33 King Street, London WC2, tel: 020 7379 9696
The wine list stretches for 89 pages, encompassing 2,500 different wines ranging from £18 a bottle to £3,900. Sommelier David Galetti knows his stuff and is proud to offer 50 wines under £20 a bottle and 30 by the glass. ‘We don’t want to scare people,’ he says. ‘We want them to have a great time and to keep coming back.’ Well, he doesn’t scare me and I do keep going back. Last time I stuck to wines by the glass — an Albariño from Spain, a Pinot Noir from New Zealand, a Zinfandel and a dessert Black Muscat, both from California.
Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Street, London W1, tel: 020 7437 5708
Every wine-loving Londoner knows this little bit of bohemia. I used to live round the corner and was never out of there and still go when I can. Pol Roger at £35 seems pretty fair to me for London W1, and there is much else to enjoy in the eclectic list, with excellent Loires and Rhônes rubbing shoulders with quirky Aussie reds. The 2005 Dom Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Vieilles Vignes Rully is good value at £22.50.
J. Sheekey, 28-32 St Martin’s Court, London WC2, tel: 020 7240 2565
One of Mrs Ray’s most beloved watering holes, and not just for the star-spotting — the fishcakes are to die for. The wine list is a joy too, if rather overpriced. If I’m buying, I stick to the scrumptious 2006 Isabel Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (£35.50); if someone else is, I go for the 2004 Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay (£75).
Bellamy’s, 18-18a Bruton Place, London W1, tel: 020 7491 2727
Owner Gavin Rankin loves his wine and it shows. The list of barely 50 wines majors on clarets and burgundies, with fine vintages as well as thoughtfully chosen ‘lesser’ ones. £50 for 1999 Ch. Cantemerle is pretty good value for Mayfair, especially if you precede it with a bottle of softly aromatic 2006 Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc from Alsace (£26).
Wonder Bar, Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1, tel: 0800 123 400
The wonderful Wonder Bar offers an ever-changing selection of 52 different wines by the glass. My current favourites include the minerally 2006 Trial Hill ‘Maverick’ Riesling from Australia’s Eden Valley at £6.75 for a 175ml glass, and the silky and voluptuous 2003 Ravazzol Amarone della Valpolicella from Italy at £11.65 a 175ml glass.
The Ambassador, 55 Exmouth Market, London EC1, tel: 020 7837 0009
Patron Clive Greenhalgh lists plenty of wines by the glass (poured at the table so you can see what you’re getting) and if you ask nicely, he’ll open anything else for you and sell you a glass of it, offering the rest to someone else. Last time I was there I had a remarkable botrytised Chardonnay from Argentina. Talk about niche.
Rocket, 4-6 Lancashire Court, Bond Street, London W1, tel: 020 7629 2889
Rocket has one of the best-value lists in town, with champagne particularly keenly priced. A bottle of Mumm N/V will set you back just £35 and Bollinger Special Cuvée just £45. One of my favourites, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, is £55, a steal when you reckon that Galvin has it at £78, J. Sheekey at £82.50 and Roussillon at £89. Of the reds, the richly flavoured 2005 Quinta do Crasto from the Douro Valley is absurdly cheap at just £16.
Waitrose, Canada Place, Canary Wharf, London E14, tel: 020 7719 0300
A supermarket might not be your first choice for romantic nights out with your ever-loving or for long lunches with your mates, but think again. Waitrose in Canary Wharf boasts more than 1,000 different wines on its shelves, ranging from £2.99 a bottle to £625, any one of which you can drink at the in-store steak and oyster bar or wine bar. Just add £7.50 a bottle corkage.
Highlights include 2002 Trimbach ‘Cuvée Frédéric Emile’ Riesling for £26.50, 2001 Ch. Pontet Canet and 2005 Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Feusselottes, both at £40. The better-heeled might fancy a 2003 Ch. d’Yquem for £185 or 2004 Ch. Latour for £325.
Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, 66 Baker Street, London W1, tel: 020 7935 4007
My absolute number one favourite restaurant in London, not least because of its excellently chosen wine list. I like in particular the drinker-friendly 475ml pots lyonnais in which they serve selected wines. Current picks for me are the crisp and fragrant 2006 Ch. de le Mirande Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc for £18.95, the zesty 2006 Framingham Classic Riesling from New Zealand for £28.50 and the 2004 Ch. du Cèdre, Cuvée Prestige, from Cahors at £34.00 — a densely flavoured Malbec that’s just perfect with their confit of duck and savoy cabbage.
Jonathan Ray is wine editor of the Daily Telegraph.