An edited version of this article was first published in Issue 11 of Root + Bone Magazine, September 2016
Rewind a few years and London's wine community revolved around the private clubs of St James. Old men in stiff suits would sit around pontificating about whether 1982 was a better vintage than 1961 in Bordeaux or boast about how many first growths they had in their cellars.
For the uninitiated, wine was a scary prospect. For London's younger generation, it was a drink for dinosaurs.
All that has changed. Wine has become more relevant to a much wider demographic. The youth of today now seem to give a shit what wine goes best with their pulled pork.
As a result London's wine community is flourishing. It is a great time to be an oenophile in the capital.
Today's wine community looks well beyond the traditional hunting grounds of Bordeaux and Burgundy. London's young wine geeks have created an appetite for wines further and further off the beaten track. From organic and naturally made wines to wines from far flung, previously unknown regions of the wine world.
Those most obvious signs are the influx of new wine bars dotted around the capital. They are packed out with young and enthusiastic drinkers. Wine bars to look out for are Terroirs in Charing Cross, Sager & Wilde in Hoxton and 161 Food and Drink in Sydenham.
London's restaurants have also become more focused on their wine lists. It's no longer just about the food. And the best ones are looking out for drinkers.
Gone are the days of tripling the retail price of bog-standard wines and sticking them on the list. Restauranteurs are putting great efforts into sourcing delicious, interesting wines and pricing them to sell.
There are some bargains to be had if you are willing to try something new. Just ask the sommelier. He'll probably take you to his favourite wine on the list, which I bet is keenly priced. Restaurants with wine lists worth exploring are; Noble Rot, Quality Chop House and Andrew Edmunds.
Wine merchants are at it as well. Merchants like Red Squirrel and Vintrepid are selling wines from off the beaten track which until recently wouldn’t even have made it into the country.
London has always been an important market for flogging wine. But not until recently has there been any thoughts of actually producing the stuff.
But since 2013, London has had its very own urban winery. London Cru in West Brompton.
Like the best ideas, it came out of a drunken conversation. Inspired by the craft beer boom, and several pints, a plan was hatched one night in a west London pub. Rather than mothball a redundant warehouse, once owned by Roberson's wine merchants, someone had the bright idea of creating a winery. The wine is made by Gavin Monery who previously made wine in Burgundy and in his native Australia.
But where can you grow grapes in London?
You can't. Well not good ones anyway. The fruit is sourced from across Europe with the parcels designed to land in London from August to October each year. Fruit is selected from sites which allow for a different batch to be shipped every two weeks over that period.
Once the connections with growers are made, Gavin works closely with them through the year, taking control over key decisions in the vineyards, right up to the harvest. The grapes are then shipped to London where the wine is made.
Talking of the wine, I recently tasted the wines from the 2014 vintage. I thought the wines were consistently good. They all offered freshness and balance.
Here’s my recommendation for the best two to try;
Chardonnay, 2014 (£18) – sourced from the Rousillon region of South-West France, this is a really elegant wine. Oak is there but restrained. Aromas of lemon curd on toast. A very smooth with flavours of baked apple and custard. Really long finish. This is an excellent wine.
Barbera, 2014 (£20) – definitely my favourite of the reds. The fruit is sourced from Giovanni Codero in Piemonte, North-West Italy. Dark fruit and vanilla, real body and a smooth finish. The concentration is really impressive and the acidity on the finish gives real balance.
You can visit the winery by booking the regular “Meet the Cru Tour”. You get a tour of the winery and a tasting with one of the team. They also run a regular “Winemaker for a Day” course where you learn all about making the wine and get to blend your very own cru.
Details of these events and information on how to buy the wines are available at www.londoncru.co.uk