Sampling English Wine at London’s Wine Pantry
Last month during a family vacation, we spent a few days in London and as we tend to do when we’re traveling, we made a point to seek out some interesting wine. Oftentimes that includes searching for local wines – even in the most unlikely places, like across the pond in Ireland. No matter where you are, there seem to be more vineyards and wineries popping up. England is no stranger to wine, as over 400 vineyards exist in the country and its wine industry is quite respected.
After perusing a random travel brochure from the hotel, we found a mention of the Wine Pantry, a shop/tasting room that focuses exclusively on English wines. Located in Borough Market, a foodie-filled zone packed with produce shops, artisan bakers, and chocolate purveyors, the Wine Pantry occupies a tiny sliver of a space on Stoney Street. Its shelves are piled high with English wine and visitors are invited to taste samples in the shop. Some customers spill out onto the the few seats available on the adjacent sidewalk. According to its website, it’s “the only exclusively English wine shop” and it is devoted to spreading the gospel of English wine.
We visited on a January evening and were invited to sample a selection of wines that were being offered from their wine dispensing machine. They started us off by opening up an English sparkling wine, which we savored while chatting a bit with our hosts, two young and accommodating English oenophiles. So accommodating that they entertained our 6-year old while being peppered with questions from us and other wine geeks.
The sparkling wines were very approachable with apple and pear flavors. Sparkling wines are definitely a forté for the English winemakers. After the sparklers, we tried two different rosés, one very pale salmon in color, and the other a very light strawberry color. Both were great representations of the different styles you can conjure from rosé wines. We tried two or three bacchus-based wines side by side to see the differences and did the same sort of comparison with English pinot noir (including a Three Choirs Pinot Noir). One Pinot (we forget the name) was a little lighter in style with some nice strawberry flavors while the Three Choirs had a little more depth to it and was showing some more oak.
Wineglass chandelier at the Wine Pantry UK
All of the wines were a delicious introduction to English wine and we had a hard time deciding on the perfect bottle to take home. We ended up with a bottle of 2006 Breaky Bottom Cuvée Reservée Brut made from seyval blanc. It was highly recommended by Julia, one of the hosts, and we knew that when we bust this one out at a dinner party that just by name it would instantly be recognized as an English wine.
After quenching our thirst – on a fairly chilly evening – we were ready to have a warm meal. Julia recommended a nice local restaurant nearby, Elliot’s Cafe in the Borough Market. Once we stepped in we felt instantly at home – this could have been a small farm-to-fork restaurant in San Francisco, just with different local ingredients. The food and the people were equally welcoming. We ended up chatting with a family sitting next to us, the father being the designer of the restaurant. We even got a quick tour of the kitchen downstairs, where there were a couple of pig’s heads sitting in brine. We wish we had found this neighborhood earlier in our trip. Alas, it was our last night, so we ended the trip on a high note!
Our trip to Borough Market got us out of the tourist zones of London and provided a great opportunity to try a range of wines from the growing English wine scene and get a feel for the neighborhood restaurant action. Perhaps on our next visit we’ll get the chance to travel outside of London in order to visit one of the hundreds of vineyards in the U.K. Until then, we have our bottle of Breaky Bottom.
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