Courtesy of The Stafford London
Ever since 1152, when England's soon-to-be King Henry II married Eleanor, an Aquitaine duchess who brought a little place called Bordeaux to the partnership, England has been known for two things: her greed for land and her thirst for wine. The land is gone, but the thirst remains, and the wines of Britain's former empire (and its competitors) still pour into London, making this a wonderful city in which to explore the world by the glass.
For instance, if Bordeaux is still what you desire, there are six vintages of the great Château Margaux by the glass at Clarette in Marylebone, which is owned, like the Château, by the Mentzelopoulos family. A more 21st-century option is 40 Maltby Street, a natural-wine bar. On my last visit, I discovered an excellent Beaujolais by Jérôme Balmet, disciple of Lapierre and Lapalu, and a Monastrell from La Zafra, an Alicante microbodega near the Mediterranean coast. Tables are shared; the small plates are delectable. They don't take reservations, so turn up early. Frank's is about staying late. This bar lurks beneath Maison François, a gorgeous double-height brasserie with the most sumptuous dessert trolley in London, but Frank's prefers its sugar fermented. Here, you can hitch a hip on a stool at the glowing counter and peruse a wine list that starts and ends in France but does a lot of traveling in between, while figuring out which bottles go best with gougères or their excellent terrine.
Courtesy of Claridge's
No self-respecting London wine-lover would miss Noble Rot, in an ancient building in Clerkenwell. This haven now has a younger sibling in a legendary former politicos' hangout in Soho, and both are dens of temptation: Alongside seasonal delicacies, there's an ever-changing selection of the kinds of wines not usually available by the glass, at kindly markups. For something a little crazier, I drop into Luca Dusi's fabulous vinoteca Passione Vino, where the wallpaper is flamboyantly floral, the shop shelves are packed with bottles, and the tiny kitchen turns out great pasta to help limit the effects of yet another indigenous grape variety or unusual producer whose praises Luca is trilling. More Italian than the tricolore, he is perfectly at home in this terminally parched city. The lands have returned to their rightful owners, and that's fine, as long as they continue to send London a share of their fermented grapes.
Nina Caplan is a London-based arts, wine, and travel writer; her first book is The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me (2018, Bloomsbury Continuum).