A few weeks ago I had the chance to spend a weekend in London with two of my favorite ladies, both of whom live in countries other than France. It was a much needed escape and in addition to spending some time with good friends, I had a little time to play by myself. So of course, because my life revolves around wine, I made my way over to Vinopolis.
The “London Wine Tasting Experience,” Vinopolis is perched in a prime location under the Victorian railway arches on London’s Bankside. On the steps of the famous foodie destination, Burough Market, Vinopolis has been bringing the world of wine to London for 16 years. Part educational tour, part tasting and part self-guided adventure, this London landmark is closing its doors at the end of the year. So I made may way down to the South Bank, while I still had the chance.
And now for the truthful part, after all the hype I was a little disappointed. But there is a caveat to this. I experienced Vinopolis by myself – not a complaint, just an observation. And on a Friday afternoon during working hours. I think I would have enjoyed myself a lot more had there been someone with me. So if you’re planning to go – take a friend. I also am a self-professed wine nerd. Clearly the Vinopolis experience is geared toward those amateur wine lovers who don’t know much about wine but enjoy drinking it. For me, personally, much of the experience felt a little redundant.
When I arrived, I decided on the Quintessential package, the largest option, which provided me with 16 tasting tokens. Approximately 65% of the wines cost about 1 or 2 tokens – so in reality this package allowed me to taste 12 different wines and spirits, including the glass that was offered at the beginning. Although I have to confess, at the time it felt like not enough. The 16 tokens were not enough for me to taste everything I would have liked and I was disappointed in the upsell. But that being said it was 12 good size tasting pours and I loved that the computer would register my card and track what I tasted for me.
The experience began with a glass of white wine and a brief systematic tasting method seminar led by a Frenchman. Again, as an official wine nerd and the holder of a WSET Level 2 Diploma, this was very redundant for me. But the wine was a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Central Valley. We were then lead into the heart of the matter. The cleverly designed experience included multiple rooms, educational displays, enomatic machines, interactive touch screens and a couple of bars (A Champagne bar and a tapas/snack bar). In addition to wine, there was a small selection of spirits and an absinthe offering. The wines on offer rotate monthly, but I felt at the time that the offerings were very New World focused, with an emphasis on South Africa. (Again I know I’m a snob) With funky music and lights, the scattered tables and separated rooms felt more like a bar or club.
I did take a few minutes to also explore the two attached stores: The Whisky Exchange and Laithwaite’s. Personally I thought The Whisky Exchange was amazing. In a small space they had a tremendous offering of fine spirits. The Laithwaite’s store was … interesting. Probably the largest wine club and DTC provider in the world the Laithwaite’s selection was an odd blend of fine wine, affordable gems and mass produced brands. But they did offer all of the wines available for tasting in Vinopolis at a discount. That being said both of these locations only stock a small portion of their catalogue.
Now for the juicy details (in no particular order):
- Goats do Roam Wine Company The Goatfather 2012: A Sangiovese from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, this powerful wine was warm and robust. Notes of coffee and cherry. A bit acidic but a decent effort.
- Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre 2012: A classic, if light effort from the Sancerre appellation in the Loire Valley. Crisp and slightly yeasty, yellow fruit such as peach and apricot dominated the bouquet.
- Miguel Torres Vina Esmeralda 2012: An unusual Muscat and Gewurztraminer blend from Catalunya, Spain. This wine was both spicy and very grapey with intriguing floral notes.
- Hopler GMBH Gruner Veltliner 2012: I was really excited to try my first taste of the Austrian classic Gruner Veltliner only to be a little disappointed. Lots of green fruit on the nose but a bit flat on the palate.
- C.V.N.E. Vina Real Blanco 2012: A Viura from Spain’s Rioja this crisp white was everything I’ve come to expect of my Spanish whites. Crisp, clean and very drinkable.
- Little Devil Bloodshot: A wheat vodka from England the company claims this is the perfect mixer for a Bloody Mary. Infused with typical bloody mary spices there is a touch of ruby port mixed in before the final spirit is filtered 5 times for a smooth and spicy finish.
- S. A. Boas Quintas Giesta Dao 2010: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen from Portugal this wine is a modern take on an old classic. More fruit forward than oak heavy it is weighty and smooth.
- Madeira Wine Company Alvada 5 yr old: A blend of 50% Bual and 50% Malmsey, this was my first taste of aged Madeira. And I loved it. Smooth, balanced and rich with flavor.
- Weingut Paulinshof Brauneberger Juffer 2011: A Riesling from the Mosel Valley, this white wine had body and weight in the mouth. A blend from two vineyards this dry offering was surprisingly mineral.
- Thelema Vineyards Sutherland Chardonnay 2010: Another offering from South Africa, this 100% Chardonnay was rich and smooth. A classic Chardonnay
- Jean-Luc Columbo Cotes Du Rhone 2012: A blend of 80% Clairette and 20% Rousanne, this was a very floral offering from the Rhone. Citrusy and mineral it was surprisingly complex and supple.
So… all in all, it was a great way to pass a Friday afternoon by myself in London. And it was a great start to a great weekend. Now I’m very interested to see what the Bordelaise can manage to accomplish with the Cité des Civilisations du Vin, opening in 2016.