The best wine bars in London

Comptoir Gascon: the interior is very French and attractive. A 'home from home'
Comptoir Gascon: the interior is very French and attractive. A

London has remarkably few wine bars which possess a truly extensive list of wines. It is not surprising if one considers the organisation behind such an undertaking: one needs somewhere to display them, one needs resources to buy them and, if they're not for immediate drinking, to store them whilst funding the cash flow. One needs expertise in choosing the wines and, above all, one needs enthusiasm and contacts. This isn't an easy mix to manage.

What makes a great wine bar? Doubtless you have your own checklist, but here is mine. First and foremost it must offer great wines, without this simple criterion it may not be considered, for obvious reasons. Second, it must be a place which is congenial and professionally run. Third, it must be moderately convenient and lastly, it must be the kind of place you might wish to take your family and friends. You might decide to take a work colleague but that can never be a reason in itself. Who wants to go to a restaurant, or bar, which is largely populated by those on expense accounts, who are trying to do business with the person(s) across the table, or where most people are talking shop? There is no atmosphere in such places, they can be very unattractive, and which is why I haven't included anywhere in the City of London, despite visiting several.

So, where to go to explore an exciting selection of wines? Much may depend on your location. Your search for a good glass or bottle of wine may be after work, part of a pre-Theatre snack, a quiet sip on your own, a team building exercise, or a glass to educate oneself by. You may want to be somewhere fun and stimulating, or just a place to hang out with your friends. Perhaps you want to meet someone new, of the opposite sex? Well, this article won't help you there. Frankly, my advice would be to feign total ignorance about wine. Shout across the bar “Give me a glass of the 2006 Chassagne Montrachet, 'Morgeots', Premier Cru, from Domaine Ramonet...". and you might as well show up wearing a hernia truss, and a bright orange wine-stained t-shirt for all the good it will do you. Or, you could try one of the bars below, they will, at least, recognise you for what you are – a wine bore with a penchant for the colder vintages from Burgundy.

I have chosen half dozen wine bars after considering 30 or more for inclusion, a fairly severe selection. Each wine bar represents a specific type: hotel bar, gastro pub, sub-terranean, old favourite, smart, French (very) and snazzy South American restaurant tie-in. They are dotted around London with a concentration, as you might expect, in the West End. It can pay to shop around. There are two wines cited here, for example, that differ in price by more than £50.

The Princess Victoria
This is an old Victorian converted pub which re-opened in June 2008. Pubs aren't generally smart but the Princess Victoria is clean and read more click on the name
Cork and Bottle
If you can find the entrance (and many have) this is quite an institution, owned and run by Don Hewitson. This fits into the pre-modern subterranean wine bar mould which opened its cellar in read more click on the name
1707 Fortnum and Mason
Small underground bar with vaulted ceilings, named after the founding date of the shop and built when the shop was refurbished just a few years ago. read more click on the name
Comptoir Gascon
On the fringe of the City this very attractive bistro and delicatessen attracts clients from the Square Mile and outside. They have an extensive wine list which are all from the South West of read more click on the name
This has to be one of the friendliest wine bars in London. Simon Pearson enjoyed working at the wine bar so much, he bought it back in the read more click on the name
Cavas de Gaucho
The flagship of the Gaucho chain. Tables and chairs outside in this quiet West End street. Wine boutique stocking some 150 Argentinian read more click on the name
A bar (and restaurant) in the hotel idiom. Jazz music. Laid back red decor which works better at night when it takes on a warmer atmosphere, conveniently situated at the bottom of read more click on the name
The owners compile the extensive wine list to which they apply a maximum cash margin of £30. Scrubbed wood floor, blackboard with wine read more click on the name

At a glance price comparison Note 1Prices correct at the time of going to press:

Price for a bottle of Champagne Krug Grand cuvée:
Shampers: £120 (likely to go up)
The Princess Victoria: £120
1707 Fortnum and Mason: £130 plus £10 corkage
Gaucho: £150
Brumus: £155
Cork and Bottle: £165.

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1 Prices correct at the time of going to press

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