London is one of the best places in the world to drink. And I mean drink anything—beer, coffee, tea, heck, even hot chocolate, but especially wine, and most especially over the last decade, a global influx of natural wines.
England has always been keen for a tipple, but today’s milieu would have been all but unrecognizable to Londoners in the 20th century. Think London gastronomy 30 years ago, and you’d either be fine dining in Knightsbridge or ‘down the pub eating pie and mash in East London with a pint of industrial lager. Sommeliers and extensive wine lists were more or less a matter of exclusivity, ensconced in the fine dining scene and reserved for the refined palates of the Third Duke of Whatever and his stately spouse, the Duchess of Blah.
To quote Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene—the importer that arguably changed London’s wine scene forever—in the old days, “Wine bars were ‘City Groups’ and institutions that purveyed brands and a digest of claret, Burg, and port. French bistros had awfully conservative lists. Everyone was parochial.”
Here in the 21st century change has come swiftly. Following the opening of Terroirs in 2008, Tom Hill and Clare Lattin opened Ducksoup, and Heidi Nam Knudsen listed environmental, natural wines via the Ottolenghi and Nopi lists. Nam Knudsen now runs A Thousand Decisions, a London-based natural wine school. Fast forward to 2018 and London has become a vinous and gastronomic hub to rival the likes of New York, Paris, and Copenhagen. Natural wine is soaring, and much of London’s Michelin scene points to winemaking of minimal intervention and rare grape varieties.
Big Cabernet Sauvignon? Not so much. It has its place (perhaps with a nice beefsteak at Hawksmoor), but the likes of Ploussard, Trousseau, Mondeuse, grower Champagne, and Mencia are starting to proudly stick their hands up in class. With names like “Le Verre des Poètes,” “Garnacha not Guerra,” and “Fuck Trump and his Stupid Fucking Wall” gracing our wine and spirits lists, it’s a new era for emerging drinkers. For those in the trade, you can seek out back vintages of Ganevat for well under £100 as well as many up-and-coming faces of the Jura across the capital (think Loreline Laborde and Les Dolomies).
All in all, it’s a very good time to be thirsty in London.
With more restaurants and wine bars popping up every month, there are almost too many to choose from, but with such positivity from the London hospitality squad, you’re sure to be embraced by any choice from our list below. Make sure you check out wine and hospitality events happening in town via CODE; if you happen to stumble upon a BASTARDA pop-up, don’t miss out or you may weep into your empty Zalto in hindsight. The baby of sommelier Honey Spencer (ex Sager + Wilde, Noma, and Nuala) and chef Anaïs Van Manen (Bones, Import Export CAM, Trullo, Nuala) are forces to be reckoned with and have endless rares and suitcase wines stashed away.
No guide could possibly surmise every last outpost of natural wine offer in the teeming capital, but ours might as well try. Hoist your glass—nevermind the cheque—now close your eyes and think of England!
An institution, quite simply, where so many of London’s sommeliers and restauranteurs cut their teeth and drank natural wines when off shifts in the early days when Overnoy was still free flowing. This is London’s original natural wine bar and restaurant, having opened in 2008. Their motto is “wines with energy and food with respect” and that’s exactly it, in a nutshell. It has one of the most comprehensive lists of natural wine in London (a page is dedicated to rare skin contacts), and the near-mythical Domaine des Miroirs even makes an occasional appearance, not as some secret sommelier offering or backpack totem, but right there, on the list, where any plebe may order it.
Jean Pierre Frick’s Grand Crus are a steal here, and there are older vintages of Catherine et Pierre Breton for the £50 – £60 mark. Founded by Les Caves de Pyrene, arguably the first wine importer ever to focus on natural wines in the UK, these guys are the London equivalent of California’s genre-defining and generation-shifting Kermit Lynch. Winemaker dinners and events are often on here, so make sure you check their calendar. You never know who you’ll bump into. Small plates and mains change daily, and are Mediterranean inspired. I challenge you to find much better examples of grilled mackerel in the capital.
If you’ve lunched at Terroirs, nearby Soho is probably shouting for you to do some shopping—think Soho’s The Great Frog jewelers, Cheap Monday, The Kooples, Dr Martens, and the quirky old school Peckham Rye tailors. Carnaby Street’s shopping antics go hand-in-hand with an afternoon glass of wine, and none better in central Soho than Antidote, organic and biodynamic wine list galore. Nicolas Joly, Thomas Pico, Cossard, Gut Oggau are just some natural picks, together with back vintages of Julien Courtois and Els Jelipins. The uncompromisingly pure biodynamic Alsatian wines of Vignoble du Reveur recently splashed onto the UK wine scene, and you’ll find them here. If it’s summer, you can sit out on the cobbled streets and watch the world of Soho go by. Chin chin!
Nearby 10 Cases is an industry hub, with energetic and friendly staff blasting out old school rock tunes on the system—think AC/DC paired with Mosel Riesling, or Aerosmith with a side of Adelaide Hills Shiraz. Right in the centre of Covent Garden, 10 Cases has played host to more than its fair share of notorious wine crew celebrations, and for the daytime is the ideal place for late afternoon snacks (think soft shell crab, seared miso beef, and the fluffiest of fluffy croquettes like clouds in your mouth). One of the best priced lists in London, in the cave a vin you’ll find German Riesling for days, as well as some rare gems from Dard et Ribo, Belluard, Ganevat, and Stéphane Bernaudeau. If your pockets are feeling up to it, the likes of Valentini and Thierry Allemand are sleeping in the cellars here, all but ungettable most everywhere else in the city (and really, the planet at this point). Meanwhile next door in their bistro a vin, the buyers only ever buy 10 cases of wine, which means for some eclectic choices for an experimental palate. Pick Rosi Schuster’s Sankt Laurent—one of the truest examples of the grape variety.
So you’re in one of Europe’s major capital cities. If that’s not cause for celebration in itself, find another reason to celebrate simply by heading to Bubbledogs—London’s ambitious and delightful grower Champagne and hotdog bar—because what could be a better pairing? Founded in 2012, the bar is the fizzy creative delight from Sandia Chang and husband James Knappett. Chang is the Champagne and hotdogs whizz, where Knappett heads up the newly two Michelin starred Kitchen Table at the back of the bar.
Be prepared to spend half an hour browsing the list—amazing pricing, categories such as “fresh fruit bowl” and “ripe fruit bowl,” plus really rare cuvées mean you may delve into a sea of growers for more than one bottle. Everything from Pierre Péters to David Léclapart, Cédric Bouchard to Marie Courtin plus more features here… and if you fancy a still Champagne? Sure—that’s possible too, with some rarities such as Olivier Horiot’s glorious Rosé de Riceys gracing the list.
If Terroirs is London’s natural wine institution, then Noble Rot is simply a new institution for London wine—no modifier required. Set up by music-meets-wine legend Dan Keeling and one of the most clued on wine buyers the UK has ever seen, Mark Andrew MW, this historic wine bar has been transformed into the home of wine magazine, Noble Rot, via the guise of a restaurant. Although only three years old, this place’s walls whispers tales of Rotters’ Fêtes du Beaujolais gone by (their Beaujolais list is immense—think mythical Jules Desjourneys, Clotaire Michal’s post-Allemand Bojo foray, the Chapel wines, and many more). You’ll find rare, painstakingly sought-out cuvées from historic biodynamic Burgundy producers who have always farmed the natural way—think Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Caillerets 1993 for example, or if you’re in the mood for lipsmacking reductive white Burgundy, cuvées of Roulot and Arnaud Ente line the cellars. Food-wise, everything is delightful, with the kitchen headed up by Paul Weaver and Stephen Harris of the Whitstable’s legendary Michelin-starred The Sportsman. The Devon slipsole is the best slipsole you’ll find in London. Pair it with Puligny young gun Chavy-Chouet’s Bourgogne Blanc, you won’t regret it.
Other haunts include The Remedy for natural geeking-out, Winemaker’s Club for a venture into the deep, dark underground natural wine vaults of Farringdon, Elliot’s Cafe in Borough Market with its Isabelle Legeron’s curated list where Gut Oggau’s Theodora is on BTG(!), 40 Maltby Street and Dynamic Vines’ shop in Bermondsey to pick up some rare suitcase imports.
East London has fast become the home for younger chefs and start-up restaurants, originally due to the bohemian, freethinking nature of the district, lower rents, and beautiful big warehouse spaces that line the streets of what was once London’s industrial quarter. Those cheap rents are largely the stuff of yesteryear, but the district’s culture clash creativity remains, and it’s truly a great place to hunt out delicious wine.
Slap bang in the middle of Shoreditch, you’ll find Leroy, the team behind the original Ellory’s new 2018 opening in the form of a casual wine bar, but one with small plates of the finest and most precise nature that has led to them being awarded a most deserved surprise Michelin star (again).
Ed Thaw, co-owner, explains, “Leroy is an evolution. On the plate, we have Sam (Kamienko) cooking the kind of food that he wants to cook—simple food cooked with simple precision. When we get a dish right it’s surprising without trying too hard. ‘Balance’ is a word I think about a lot when choosing wine. I’m less interested in labels than in finding a wine where all the elements come together in the right way. That is what makes the difference between a ‘nice’ plate of food and wine, or something stellar.”
Jack Lewens, Ed Thaw’s Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, began a winemaking project in Campania, Vigneti Tardis, in 2016, in collaboration with Jackson Boxer of Brunswick House and St Leonard’s and Michael Sager of Sager + Wilde. It is currently composed of a Fiano macerated on the skins of Malvasia, with some structured seasoning from Coda di Volpe, and an Aglianicone (ancient relative to Aglianico)—a juicy, smashable red with an underlying serious backbone of a graphite quality. Drink both here, in their home, and settle in for a long lunch.
St Leonard’s (Shoreditch)
From one of London’s most talented cheffing duos, Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke, comes St Leonard’s, Brunswick House’s sister dressed in leather trousers with a buttoned-up designer shirt and Comme des Garçons shoes. You’ll be hard pressed to find more innovative dishes in London—think ice meets fire, where a raw bar serves mouth watering innovation via the form of smoked eel and foie gras custard, raw mackerel, soy butter, and dandelion, followed by monkfish cooked on the fire pit with sea buckthorn molasses, beach herbs, and the best cuts of meat in the UK. Albert Blaize, one of London’s top wine noses, heads up the wine list. Don’t miss Marc Soyard’s (ex Bizot) Domaine de la Cars Dijon wines, Niepoort’s Nat Cools, Envinate, or a Clos Rougeard vertical if you feel like splashin’ out in a sea of Cabernet Franc. Just ring us up first to tag along.
Get stuck in for an afternoon of slow dining and slow drinking: this is the vinous Mecca of the East London hospitality scene. Right next to Columbia Road’s flower market, head here in the morning to stroll with a coffee, take in the atmosphere, and check out some of the antiques shops. Brawn was one of the restaurants to revolutionize the food scene in this part of town, and the small plates provide you with endless grazing options. From their immense natural wine list, pick Fuchs und Hase to start, the joint pet-nat collaboration from Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch and Martin and Anna Arndorfer; a rainbow of fresh Austrian bubbles in the role of apertif. Choose De Moor next, then Puffeney, then Strohmeier, then Labet, then La Stoppa, then Momento Mori, then SUSUCARU, then Julie Balagny, then Derain, then Etna’s super-old-vine Masseria del Pino…you get the picture. A good innings is necessary here and prices are hard to beat.
The Sager + Wilde Posse [Bar on Hackney Road, restaurant in Bethnal Green, plus new opening FARE] (Hoxton/Bethnal Green/Clerkenwell)
While Terroirs and the likes of Ducksoup ripped the chasm for natural wine in central London, the Sager + Wilde team went all lights-out on East London back in 2012 with the launch of their pop-up, which quickly found a permanent home on Hackney Road. It became a household name in every London wino’s book, and today it continues on its path to bring lesser-known growers and hard-to-find wines to the forefront. It is one of the only places in the capital where you will find Dumien-Serrette’s tiny production Cornas wine for example (they’ve got the 2010, in fact). This sommelier gang have their noses screwed on.
Soon after opening on Hackney Road, the team opened their restaurant in Bethnal Green, which has to have some of the most soothingly stunning interiors in all of London. Sit here and rock yourself into a natural wine slumber while devouring some of their handmade pasta, some of the city’s very best.
Their newly opened FARE, in Clerkenwell, serves Mediterranean-inspired dishes (flatbreads and mouthwatering spices for days), and has a next-level opening list boasting some rare finds—DOPE by Claus Preisinger to start followed by 1999 Domaine de la Grand Tour Fleurie, followed by a comparison of Martine and Christian Rouchier’s sans souffre St Josephs with 2008 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Coteaux de Bassenon. If heaven is splashed out on Syrah, then St. Peter himself devised this list.
The Laughing Heart (Hoxton)
As previously profiled on Sprudge Wine, Charlie Mellor changed London’s late night dining scene with his venture, The Laughing Heart. Mellor buys roughly only six bottles of every cuvée and changes the list on a weekly basis. For this reason, it’s one of the most exciting places to smash natural wine in the capital, ensuring a constant crowd of London’s somms and wine crews. It is one of the few restaurants to have a late-night license, which paired with unbelievable late-night Aussie inspired food means once you’re stuck in here, you’re there till late.
What’s more, under the restaurant lies the cave, a shop where allocation wines get to find loving homes off the wine list. If you’re looking to take special European wines home with you, this is the place to do it. Indeed I know one Sprudge Wine editor in particular to have stuffed his suitcase to overflowing from Mellor’s cellar on a recent London trip.
There is an entire page on this list dedicated to Le Coste. Really that is enough said.
Newcomer Wines (Dalston)
In 2014, business students Peter Honegger and Daniela Pillhofer lit London’s wine scene up the backside and to some degree, changed wine lists in the capital for…ever? At the time, they found home in one of Boxpark’s container pop-ups, serving Austrian natural wines direct to consumers; think Claus Preisinger, the Rennersistas, Ewald Tscheppe of Werlitsch, and Christian Tschida but to name a few. The trade caught on pretty quickly that this duo had some of the most exciting natural wines you’ll find on Planet Earth and now they grace many of London’s Michelin starred restaurants and wine hubs. Their own bar opened in 2016, and you can head to this little vinous corner of Dalston to drink all their own wines (and friends from like-minded vignerons) for just £10 above the shop price. Look out for special events, as these guys pull off some of the most exciting wine events in the capital, including a recent Swiss vs French fondue battle with rare Alpine wines. What’s 2019 going to hold in store?
Brilliant Corners (Dalston)
Round the corner from Newcomer lies Brilliant Corners. Imagine if the Four Horsemen met JBS Jazz Bar and had a natural wine lovechild with an unparalleled sound system. With Robinot and Les Foulards Rouges on the everyday list and some occasional rare cuvées on the other list (give a wink and a knowing look and you may get to see it—DeMoor’s Aligoté anyone?) this is one of the industry favorites in London. By night, DJs take over; even Four Tet and Floating Points have graced the decks here. 1:00ams don’t get much better with electronica X white port and tonics. Read much more about Brilliant Corners here in our feature on founders Amit and Aneesh Patel.
From the team of P. Franco, Clapton’s famed natural wine rabbit hole, comes Bright, a neighborhood wine bar and restaurant. Home to everything from creative small plates to massive whole turbots to a ton of rare wines (Domaine des Cavarodes and Octavin anyone?) means you’ll be locked in your seats for a few hours. Cantina Giardino’s Paski Coda di Volpe paired with the world’s best sandwich—the katsu sandos—is the pairing that dreams were made of. Make sure you order two plates (or three).
Other honorable mentions include BRAT if you’re seeking some of the best fish in town with a killer fish-friendly wine list curated by Noble Rot’s Dan Keeling; both The Clove Club and Lyle’s provide Michelin starred creative fine dining that will make your tastebuds question everything they thought they knew.
Naughty Piglets (Brixton)
Spend the morning in Brixton’s famed markets, then stroll 10 minutes down Water Lane to get to Naughty Piglets for lunch. Set up by Margaux Sharratt, previously of Terroirs and hubby Joe Sharratt, chef, previously of Trinity, this is one of London’s top addresses for French natural wines, with some Austrian and Italian friends, with delicious locally sourced small plates. Drink François Saint-Lo’s pure-as-pure-can-be Cabernet Francs while eating the fried duck egg, girolles, and salsify dish while pondering whether girolles are possibly the best mushroom out there.
Head to the basement bar if you just fancy a snack; no bookings are needed.
Dvine Cellars (Clapham High Street)
Into your New World Natties? Gregory Andrews’ wine bar and wine shop across the road from Clapham Overground Station is arguably London’s best haunt for Australian and South African minimal intervention goodies if you’re looking to stock up your suitcase and have a toastie and a glass of Craven, Intellego, or Ochota Barrels while you’re at it; shopping can be exhausting, after all…
Levan is the brand new sibling to Brixton’s Salon, with two full pages dedicated to wines of the Jura. This is your place to get locked in for Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin, and Chardonnay galore, including a section of Jura grape varieties grown abroad, featuring Miras, Fedellos do Coutro, Forlorn Hope, Arnot Roberts, and many more. Jura nuts unite!
Spend time studying the list to get really nerdy; there’s lots of soil type information and ace descriptions like “savory, salty dog” and “horse saddle funk.” Do not miss the tarte tatin; it’s the best tarte tatin this Sprudge reporter has ever tasted, and that includes a healthy sampling of offerings across France.
Christina Rasmussen is a freelance journalist based in London.