By Rick Riozza
Wake Up! Get out of bed…drag a comb across my head. Greetings again sports fans! As I mentioned in my recent wine article: Wondrous Wine at Wimbledon, I may not know my way around the new and up-coming wineries in England, but we’re quickly making the rounds of some established and new wine bars, only minutes away from the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
The desert temperatures followed me to Wimbledon—as least for the first week—with record heat going on. Every reason for a quick jaunt through the streets of London for a run-about to visit and taste at the wine bar. But just a fast glass or two and perhaps a bite—the present-day legends of tennis are on the green green grass of old!
The Tournament may be afoot, but the mind is abreast here in London that ye olde wines bars are opening all over town. With a smart business attitude, the trend is to provide a small, ever-changing wine list with low mark-ups and small tasty dishes in the offering. And if London is on your travel radar, do keep these vino venues in mind.
The same British wit continues as with traditional funny/odd pub names, over at the Green Man & French Horn. It’s the perfect place to duck into for a refreshing and thirst-quenching quaff in these current 90 degree plus afternoons: They specialize in Loire Valley wines!! which include the Sancerres, Vouvrays, the Anjou Rosés, and the Pouilly Fumés that are light and low on the alcohol. An impressive selection by the glass—along with terrific bistro fare. Bottoms Up!
Another wine bar with a French feel is the 28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen. Named after the latitude at which vines can be grown, you can get some really interesting stuff for a great price—much of it by the glass, and you can order a quick taste just to enjoy a wine you’ve only heard of in wine magazines. And the owner is not only a Master Sommelier but a Michelin star restaurateur. You think his bar bites are terrific?
Jumping over to a real English feel, visit the Kensington Wine Rooms. Its Kensington crowd treat it like a members’ club, lingering over bottles and meals and filling the place with atmosphere and confident conversation.
This is a major wine bar with 40 wines by the glass and 100 more in bottles. To Americans, the bar staff sounds like they can be a bit huffy but they’re actually a good group and take pleasure in guiding your choices. Food consists of nibbles and platters.
Now if the Californian vino lover wishes to feel really at home, they’ll head out to Mission. Referring neither to a position nor a crusade to save souls, this Mission is named after the San Francisco neighborhood. It’s a great looking place—you’ll certainly want to enjoy a glass of wine here. The bar’s corrugated ceiling is a huge railway arch that is low lit in the evenings. The walls are wood-paneled, a real palm tree soars to the roof, and a spacious courtyard faces the traffic-free road.
The short wine list has about 20 of wines daily, but a big selection of California wines and some Old World beauties. As for bubblies, they pour their signature sparkler Mission Fizz, along with a Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs. Wines are mostly from small producers, though you can also find the Albariño from Bonny Doon and the Grenache Blanc from Tablas Creek Vineyards.
The Remedy. This place is the best when you enjoy being perplexed! The wine list is almost deliberately obscure, covering lesser-known regions, grapes and style of wines. There are no big brands, no big-name Bordeaux, no names that you would know—isn’t that fun!
The staff is wine-nerdy and hilarious—a very hospital group. Savor here, the wines less chosen.
Quality Chop House. This is as much a restaurant as it is a charming wine bar with its 19th Century “chop and a glass” tradition. What you like here is that the owner is the son of the very famous wine writer Jancis Robinson, so the wine and bistro will have to be exemplary. Wine gems are here to be found.
But here at Chop, you’re always asking yourself—does mummy Jancis get to drink for free? Who charges their own Mom?
An oldie but Goldie, a tip of the hat to Gordon’s—the oldest wine bar in the capital. Opening its doors in 1890, little has changed in the bar. Wooden walls are covered in yellowing newspaper cuttings and posters from a bygone era. The lighting and the ceilings are low.
The Sherry selection—as one would expect—is stellar; served in the traditional way, straight from the barrel and generously filled up to the brim.
Vinoteca. We’ve been to many wine bars around the world that utilize that name. This one is the least pretentious and very charming with a friendly wine staff to joke with. Prosecco’s on tap and interesting & exploratory wine flights re: regions & varietals, are ready to be lined up.
Actually this year, for the first time in Wimbledon’s history, tennis fans are offered English wine: The 2014 Pinot Gris from Bolney Estate served to guests in hospitality suites at the All England Lawn Club and the box seats at the stadium. At around $30 (U.S.) the wine is described “a fragrant aroma of rose, jasmine and conference pears” with “a lovely creamy freshness”. Sounds English to me!
Pip Pip Cherrio!