The problem with dining out today is not just the high price of bottles on many wine lists but their poor quality, says Tom Cannavan. Luckily for wine lovers, there are establishments out there bucking the trend. Here’s a selection of chains and local restaurants…
Best UK restaurant wine lists
Several months ago I visited an Italian restaurant where the food was terrific, including a creamy risotto with foraged herbs, then a wild boar ragout rich with porcini. Unfortunately, the wines were shocking: a Verdicchio from Le Marche should have been better than tart and lemony, and a Puglian Primitivo was a soupy, alcoholic concoction of zero typicity.
Like many restaurants, the wine list was deliberately obfuscated: full of exclusively ‘on-trade’ labels (wines only available in bars and restaurants) that ensure customers can’t compare prices with the high street.
A reasonable knowledge of wine grapes, regions and styles gives at least some chance of choosing wisely; otherwise it’s a complete lottery. My tactic of taking a punt on something that has decent credentials on paper and is modestly priced normally turns up a decent wine – but you can still be unlucky.
Below are a few ‘honourable exceptions’ – restaurants where you can find great choice and value…
Wine lists – Restaurant chains
Now 18 branches, and a list that’s more carefully chosen than at many chains.
Hotel du Vin Bistros
Local buying decisions are allowed, sommeliers even buying wine at auction.
Some less-obvious Italian choices, and you can buy from the shop to drink with your meal.
The prices are a little steep, but it has a serious and unrivalled selection of Argentinian wines.
Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill
Focused on whites to suit the mainly fishy cuisine; a well-composed list.
Wine lists – Local restaurants
La Trompette & Chez Bruce, London
Under the same ownership. Exceptional lists with lots by the glass, and some prices cheaper than retail.
The 10 Cases, London
Only ever buying 10 cases of wine for its ever-changing list – and great food-matching too.
Gliffaes Hotel, Crickhowell, Powys
A great example of a fixed cash margin replacing percentage gross profit further up the list.
The Newport, Newport, Fife
Masterchef: The Professionals winner Jamie Scott’s bistro; a fab list from a local merchant.
Originally written for Decanter magazine by Tom Cannavan and edited for Decanter.com by Ellie Douglas. Subscribe to Decanter here.