A funny thing happened in lockdown. Bars shut but they seeded a growing crop of bottle shops that, since freedom has been declared have either turned back into, or become, bars in their own right. And now that we can, there is pure pleasure in twisting bottles around in the light, mulling labels and wine lists first hand instead of squinting at them online. There is also a comforting intimacy to wine bars that sits at odds with the clatter of a pub: an air of sophistication, even if you have no idea what the sommelier is talking about.
That said, with a new crop offering both more outlandish and more accessible wine lists, there’s even less need to feel like you have to be able to tell your Grenache from your Syrah or muse about undertones of chocolate if all you want is to knock back a glass of the good stuff.
For those wanting to find the best of the old school or something fresh, here is a small tasting of London’s finest wine selling saloons.
Frank’s, St James’s
Right in the heart of St James’s rarefied gallery land, the subterranean Frank’s has a short list of wines by the glass. But, lack of quantity is outweighed by the quality of the choices. Two of each colour plus a sweetly yeasty vin jaune and a couple of fortified wines display the tastes of an adventurous sommelier. The menu – proper French bar fare from oysters to rabbit pate – soaks up the juice well. The music is unconventional – more Wheatus than jazz – but soothingly smooth leather banquettes surround the square bar and are perfect for whispering secrets. If you’re in the mood, the calvados sorbet makes an excellent disgestif. Or, you could nip upstairs for the full brasserie experience at the bar’s parent restaurant, Maison Francois.